Access to Capital for Entrepreneurs is a nonprofit community lender whose mission is to help entrepreneurs launch, grow, and strengthen their businesses. ACE assists established companies, as well as start-ups, to help them achieve sustainability. ACE was started in 1999 by CEO Grace Fricks as a response to the lack of available start-up capital for North Georgia Technical College graduates wanting to start businesses. Presently, ACE serves 68 counties, including all of North Georgia and the Atlanta metro area.
Like many businesses in north Georgia, A Touch of Country Magic operates on a seasonal schedule. The company makes handcrafted, scented brooms, pine cones, and wreaths, and production for the holidays shifts into a higher gear in June. Cinnamon-scented brooms provide aromatherapy and decoration. “I don’t focus on sales during the off-season,” says Carol Tucker, CEO of the Cleveland-based company, “but we need to get an early start. As in times gone by, we make our products by hand, handling each broom at least nine times. That requires more people.” Consequently, her employment rolls can jump from single digits to 75 – 125 workers. “We hire a lot of ‘second chance’ people,” she says, “meaning people who have been in jail or struggled with substance abuse or had some other setback in their lives. Those people have a hard time finding employment. In most cases, they made one mistake. We all make mistakes. They can get a second chance here, an opportunity to rejoin the work-force.” Support from ACE has enabled Country Magic, which started in 1983, to pay those desperately needed salaries, she says. “We’re a strange, little company – a real niche business,” Tucker says with a laugh. “Nobody else does what we do. Small businesses have had it rough for the past few years. When the banks won’t help, you have to get creative in your financing. ACE has stepped up in a way that enabled us to grow each year.”
Since its inception in 1999, ACE has loaned more than $23MM and created or retained more than 3,500 jobs. ACE has provided economic opportunity to more than 500 small businesses and in addition, through ACE’s Business Advisory Services, over 2,500 individuals gained new personal and business financial skills that will help them and their families become more financially secure. ACE’s environmental impact through Save & Sustain loans shows that electricity consumption was reduced by more than 600 MWhs annually. In late 2013, ACE implemented a new program with help from Calvert Foundation, Women Investing in Successful Entrepreneurs (WISE). Since the launch in November 2013, ACE has loaned more than $2 million to 25 women-owned small businesses. 48% were to low-to-moderate income women and 28% were to women of color. These loans resulted in 131 jobs created or saved for Georgians.