support and advocacy

PeopleFund aims to change the shape of economy by nurturing startups and nonprofits in low-income neighborhoods

PeopleFund aims to change the shape of economy by nurturing startups and nonprofits in low-income neighborhoods

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Gary and Karin Gerstenhaber, PeopleFund's 2011 Community Volunteer Award Winners
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Stacy Zoern, CEO of Community Cars
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Nicole Baldwin, owner and founder of BAIO Skincare
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Austin Photo Set: News_Peoples Fund_Shelley_Aug 2012_Stacy
Austin Photo Set: News_Peoples Fund_Shelley_Aug 2012_Baldwin

Severe facial burns. Homeless. Deployed to Afghanistan with the U.S. Army. These are just a few of the obstacles that Nicole Baldwin, owner and founder of BIAO Skincare, has had to face during her short life; and Baldwin one of those awesome reminders of why it’s important for our community to support small businesses.

BIAO is a certified organic, all-natural and cruelty-free skincare line produced and packaged in Houston. Promoting beauty from the inside-out, every product comes with a special “BIAO Love Seal” to indicate it meets BIAO’s rigorous quality criteria. With a passion for making women feel their best, Baldwin took her painful life experiences and leveraged them into her line of skincare products.

“As a little girl, I was burned badly with hot scalding water while trying to surprise my grandmother Mary with a cup of tea," Baldwin recalls. "My face was burned so bad that my lips peeled off. I was at the beginning of my life with scars and low self-esteem. My grandmother began making her own herbal remedies using vitamin E to heal my scars and it worked.” That injury sowed the seeds for Baldwin's passion for beauty.

Baldwin's own experience with burns was only the start of her personal challenges. Homeless as a teenager, Baldwin made a conscious decision to see the beauty in things and to strive for her dreams. She has also served two tours of duty in Afghanistan as a member of the U.S. Army, which she credits with instilling the values of hard work and determination that have made BIAO the success it is today.

When Baldwin needed more capital to purchase inventory to fill orders, she turned to the Austin nonprofit, PeopleFund. The organization foster entrepreneurship, particularly among economically disadvantaged and minority business owners, by providing small business loans as well as business education and assistance.

"PeopleFund creates economic opportunity and financial stability for underserved people by providing access to capital, education and resources to build healthy small businesses," says Allen Rogers, Communications & Outreach Manager.

 "When clients are able to start their business, keep it going or take it to the next level because of the capital and educational resources we provide, there is no larger success for our organization, the community or the economy."

PeopleFund clients come from different backgrounds and professions — construction, retail, faith-based and educational institutions — but all are small business owners and nonprofits who needed to credit. Nearly 75 percent of its loans go to economically disadvantaged, minority or women-owned businesses.

PeopleFund loans have helped fund Knowbility to provide equal access to technology for people with disabilities, Ecology Action to keep up with its environmental advocacy activities, Bennu Coffee to open their coffeehouse in East Austin and the Sterling Classical School to expand their pre-kindergarten classes.

Rogers says that PeopleFund primarily focuses on serving low-to-moderate income areas and households, women and minority owned businesses and nonprofit community facilities.

"Recently, PeopleFund helped a start-up called Community Cars get off the ground so it could produce wheelchair accessible electric smart-cars. Community Cars was founded by Stacy Zoern, a former attorney who has been confined to a wheelchair by a genetic disability since birth."

Rogers believes that PeopleFund’s greatest successes are the successes of its clients.

"When clients are able to start their business, keep it going or take it to the next level because of the capital and educational resources we provide, there is no larger success for our organization, the community or the economy," he says. "The main challenge of the organization is supporting our demand. There are many clients we would like to be able to provide more capital and services to, but we have our own limitations of human resource and infrastructure. The better we can support our clients, the more likely they are to succeed."

The organization is looking to expand its horizons in order to meet the needs of more clients, by offering lending services across the state. It recently acquired an organization out of Dallas to open a satellite office there to begin lending and support in underserved areas of the DFW Metroplex.

"We believe we can change the shape of our economy through the support and advocacy of small business and community development," Rogers says. "By keeping dollars local and supporting entrepreneurs in our own areas, we can build healthy, sustainable communities that create economic opportunity for all its residents."