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Published: Thursday, 3/23/2006

'Microloans' have big effects for Toledo area entrepreneurs

BY HOMER BRICKEY
BLADE SENIOR BUSINESS WRITER
Cletissia 'Tessa' Shaw borrowed $3,000 to equip her west Toledo art studio and start an online gallery. Cletissia 'Tessa' Shaw borrowed $3,000 to equip her west Toledo art studio and start an online gallery.
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Not all business loans are for millions of dollars, or even for tens of thousands. Sometimes a budding entrepreneur needs relatively little cash to found a business or expand one.

Frank Ozanski couldn't get a bank loan to expand Clear Images Promotional Products LLC in downtown Toledo. But he obtained a $5,000 "microloan" through Assets Toledo to buy a vinyl-cutting machine, and now he says his union shop is the region's biggest political-sign maker.

Cletissia "Tessa" Shaw needed $3,000 to equip her west Toledo art studio and get a computer so that she can start an online art gallery.

They are among a growing number of entrepreneurs getting these microloans, funded partly by Mennonite churches in northwest Ohio.

One would-be entrepreneur wanted just $500 to get his home-based business off the ground, and another needed only $1,200 for a software program and some promotional materials, said Olivia Holden, executive director of Assets Toledo.

Frank Ozanski obtained a $5,000 loan to expand his sign-making company in downtown Toledo. Frank Ozanski obtained a $5,000 loan to expand his sign-making company in downtown Toledo.
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The downtown Toledo group has graduated several hundred from its entrepreneurship classes in the last six years. "The idea is to spread the wealth," Ms. Holden said.

"We would not have gotten where we are without that loan," Mr. Ozanski said. "I was working out of my basement and I couldn't get a traditional loan."

The machine he bought allowed him to produce banners, truck decals, and signs. He said he has just two payments, or $300, left on the loan.

Ms. Shaw said she has worked for corporations where she was the last to be hired and first to be laid off and wants to work on her own as a commercial artist and sculptor. She completed classes at Assets Toledo and is about to finish a six-week course at the Toledo Museum of Art aimed at Internet marketing of artwork.

"I've been selling my pieces by word of mouth, but a lot of artists like myself don't have the money to [display] in large galleries," she said. "We don't have the money to do things on a grand scale."

Her idea is to market art through a virtual gallery she calls Heshima on her own Web site, which she hopes will be running by April 1.

With her loan, she purchased paints, canvases, "a gorgeous easel, a Dell computer, an Epson printer, and a very nice Fuji digital camera."

Ms. Holden said her group has made 10 microloans, including six to its students.

Assets Toledo got its start in the late 1990s with $22,000 from Mennonite business owners in Archbold, Toledo, Lima, and Bluffton, supplemented by a $15,000 grant from a national organization, Mennonite Economic Development Associates. Toledo was among the first 10 cities to get such a program.

Among the initial supporters was Ed Roth, a financial planner in Pettisville and a member of Archbold's Central Mennonite Church. "Sometimes banks are not very visionary when it comes to small loans," he said.

Most of Asset Toledo borrowers are making their payments, but at least two didn't pan out, Ms. Holden said. The group hopes to raise an additional $50,000 for more microloans, she added.

Contract Homer Brickey at:

homerbrickey@theblade.com

or 419-724-6129.



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