When nonprofit MEDA opened its doors in a small space in San Francisco’s Mission District way back in 1973, there was a sole purpose: strengthening small businesses. The origin of that work was fostering the creation of an asset for the new waves of immigrants coming from Mexico, Central America and South America.
MEDA’s support of budding ventures continues unabated, although it is much more comprehensive today than it was almost five decades ago. This scaling has occurred because of the need to maintain place for a community imperiled by gentrification and its subsequent displacement. It’s about equity.
To create that level playing field so everyone has the opportunity to realize their entrepreneurial spirit, MEDA starts with free workshops spanning eight weeks. The curriculum runs the gamut from social media marketing to the creation of a well-honed business plan structured to offer the best chances to not just survive, but thrive — with that generational asset for one’s family being created.
Upon graduation from the business development workshop, free one-on-one coaching is then offered as a way to guide community members through their entrepreneurial journey, which can be challenging in the Mission District’s current business climate. The need for such counsel is especially true of newcomers, who must learn the rules of money — both personal and for business — in their adopted homeland.
Many community members cannot access capital at traditional lenders, which is why Fondo Adelante was launched in fall 2015. In just four years, MEDA’s community loan arm — now a Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) — has disbursed almost 100 loans for over $2.5 million. These low-interest loans are aimed to provide the funds to start or expand small businesses. Loan needs are as variegated as $5K for the purchase of a used van to deliver goods to up to $100K to start a plant to scale production. The latter is exemplified by the case of Alicia Villanueva, an immigrant from Mexico who used to make 100 tamales a week in her tiny Berkeley kitchen, selling them around her neighborhood. Due to coaching complemented by a $100K Fondo Adelante loan, Alicia now makes 40,000 tamales a month in a bustling East Bay plant, with a score of community members employed. The exciting news is that Alicia’s Tamales Los Mayas just started selling at the Chase Center, the brand-new home of the Golden State Warriors, allowing Alicia’s entrepreneurial spirit to fully shine.
MEDA’s work in the arena of small-business development has received much positive press, especially over the past few years. There are stories of catering businesses being able to open a brick-and-mortar spot in the neighborhood. Sanguine narratives telling of MEDA’s support of culturally relevant businesses along the Mission Street commercial corridor, with grants for such work coming from the San Francisco Office of Economic and Workforce Development (OEWD recently renewed/increased this funding due to MEDA’s success).
Our organization is cognizant of the fact that small businesses fuel the U.S. economy, and MEDA is proud of its role in making the dream of business ownership a reality.
MEDA has always supported and been an advocate for small businesses. That is what we did in 1973. That is what we do today. That is what we will be doing decades from now.