Non-profit offers aid to small business owners

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By Josh Jordan
Staff Writer

A non-profit company, comprised of Ohio State University students, is trying to make an impact on the small businesses of the Hilltop.

Ascent wants to make that difference through lending, financial education and advising using the resources of Ohio State.

Colin Caniglia is the CEO of Ascent and a sophomore at OSU studying chemical engineering. He presented Ascent’s plan to the Greater Hilltop Area Commission.

“A lot of people are distrustful of financial institutions,” said Caniglia. “Our goal is to try to bridge that gap, be completely straight forward and transparent with our process and try to give as much aid and help that we can to small businesses.”

These services are not just for the Hilltop. The company’s mission is to reduce financial inequality in all of Columbus, but they are focusing on areas with the highest inequality including the Hilltop, Franklinton and Linden.

“How can you trust a college student who’s coming over here to lend money to small businesses?” asked Caniglia. “We have a board of directors that is very competent and we model our organization off of other organizations who have done this well in other cities.”

The board of directors includes a professor at the Fisher College of Business at OSU, an employee of the Boston Consulting Group, and the owner of a small business lending institution in Nashville, Tenn.

Ascent’s lending program focuses on micro-loans of $500 to $5,000 with an annual percentage rate between 4 and 8 percent, much lower than most small business loan options.

“Our target customer is a small business owner that would go to other financial institutions, a credit card, or a bank to get their means for funding,” said Caniglia. “We are a non-profit, so our goal is help as many small businesses as possible to avoid lenders.”

Their team of advisers has been helping businesses in other communities but is now making a push to receive applications for assistance from the Hilltop.

“The goal of our advisory team is to use Ohio State as a resource,” said Emily Hovis, a business adviser at Ascent. “We take students who have skills in special areas that businesses need help with, and we pair them up.”

Their advisory services can vary from financial advising to website design, a project Hovis just finished up with a Linden business.

Ascent also offers financial education courses and has teamed up with the Westgate Community Recreation Center and the Greater Hilltop Area Shalom Zone to host these classes. Residents can contact Ascent or the host sites for more information.

The commission seemed optimistic about the program and welcomed the business to the Hilltop.

“I think what they are trying to do is great,” said commissioner J.D. Groves. “But I hope they can take it a step further and identify and approach businesses in the community with a specific need.”

For additional information, visit www.ascentmicrofinance.org.

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