Thanks to a $250,000 investment, local startup findCRA has grown beyond Louisville in what company leaders hope is the beginning of a national expansion.
FindCRA helps connect nonprofits seeking support with banks looking to invest in their communities.
Co-founder Brian Waters generated the idea for the business about three years ago when he attended a luncheon at which Louisville nonprofit organizations were trying to make connections with banks to secure resources – while banks were trying to find projects to help them comply with the Community Reinvestment Act.
The CRA, a federal law from 1977 passed to end discriminatory credit practices, requires that depository institutions help meet the credit needs of their communities, especially in low- and moderate-income neighborhoods.
Waters, a former compliance officer for Republic Bank, told IL that over the years, the CRA has been expanded, and regulators now look at where banks provide services (including where they have branches and ATMs), where the employees volunteer, and to whom the institutions are providing help with financial literacy.
Difficult for both
Poor marks from regulators can damage a bank’s reputation, require costly fixes and reduce the institutions’ ability to expand or merge, said Waters, who holds degrees in English and business administration from Bellarmine University.
Making the connections is tough for both partners: For nonprofits, “it’s an intimidating process and it’s a confusing process at times,” Waters said. Banks, meanwhile, especially smaller banks with limited resources, often struggle to narrow down projects that meet their needs from the many applications they receive.
Sitting at that luncheon three years ago, Waters figured that with modern technology, there must be an easier way – an online portal, for example — to help the parties connect. Fully expecting that such a business had already been launched, Waters and fellow bank compliance officer Ben Loehle developed their idea, searched for competitors and contacted about 100 banks to see if they might be interested in an online solution to their CRA needs.
In April 2014, the duo launched the website, with Loehle as CEO and Waters as COO. About a year later, they hired Harry G. Talamini II as CTO and lead developer to improve the website’s functionality.
Nonprofits can post their needs on the website, while banks can search for projects in their markets.
The business reflects the trio’s interests, which include entrepreneurism, banking, nonprofits and improving their communities. Waters, for example was honored as Coordinator of the Year in 2012 by Louisville’s Fund for the Arts.
Successful connections between nonprofits and banks can include projects large and small. FindCRA helped secure $350 for a laser alignment machine for BR Grafix, a commercial screen print shop that is part of Corydon, Ind.-based Blue River Services, which helps people with disabilities. The entrepreneurs also have brought several banks to SmartMH KY Alliance, a Louisville-based nonprofit that helps make manufactured homes more energy efficient.
FindCRA generates revenues through subscription fees collected from banks and nonprofits, or from successful connections. The company provides some limited services for free.
Waters said the company typically can find bank partners for low-dollar requests in a matter of days. More significant amounts, tens of thousands of dollars, typically require the cooperation of several banks, which increases the time it takes to make successful connections. About two-thirds of nonprofits request financial support.
FindCRA has secured a total of about $25,000 in funding for local nonprofits in 13 successful connections. The number of paid subscribers is steadily increasing, the entrepreneurs said.
Loehle, who holds a bachelor’s in economics from the University of Kentucky and attended Nova Southeastern University’s Shepard Broad Law Center, said he expects the company to reach its break-even point next fall. The trio is still working on reducing costs and being able to predict with greater accuracy how long it will take for certain projects to find supporters.
Through their web portal, the entrepreneurs made contact with William Burdette, CEO of the Miami, Fla.-based Charity Deposits Corp., which works with more than 300 charitable organizations and 400 banks in 11 states.
CDC recently invested $250,000 in the local startup, which enabled findCRA to expand its business to New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
“It’s a huge step for us,” Waters said. “We’re excited for the opportunity that CDC brings to us.”
Burdette said in a press release that the service findCRA provides is “a significant value, so we were willing to commit financial resources to help findCRA expand its national market presence.”
FindCRA’s local network includes about 90 partners, including close to 30 banks. The local leaders want to double the network in the next six to eight months, continue to expand in the northeastern U.S., and spread to a new market every six to nine months.
Waters said the company also expects to release other products early next year. As the company grows, he said he expects findCRA to add hire more sales staff and developers in Louisville. The trio recently moved into new offices at 235 S. Fifth St., where they have plenty of room to grow.