Money

Empowering Women Entrepreneurs: Win-win Loans for Startups

  • Kari Mathes and her family secure an SBA loan to reopen a bowling alley in Pittsfield, Mass.
  • SBA loans to women-led businesses have been on the rise in recent years
  • Berkshire Hills Bancorp specializes in SBA loans and supports women-owned businesses

Introduction

In the small town of Pittsfield, Massachusetts, bowling was more than just a pastime—it was a way of life. But when the local General Electric plastics plant closed down in the early 1990s, the town’s businesses, including its beloved bowling alleys, suffered. Fast forward to 2022, and Kari Mathes, a lifelong bowler, saw an opportunity to breathe new life into the town by reopening an old pin-bowling alley. With the help of a loan guaranteed by the Small Business Administration (SBA) and Berkshire Hills Bancorp, K&M Bowling was born. Now, as the bowling alley celebrates its one-year anniversary, it has become a symbol of hope and revitalization for the community.

Economic Insights

Boosting Women-Led Businesses

The SBA has been actively promoting and supporting women-led businesses through its lending programs. In recent years, SBA loans to women-owned businesses have seen a significant increase. In 2023 alone, lending through the SBA’s 7(a) and 504 loan programs reached $5.18 billion, showcasing the growing focus on women as a potential growth opportunity for banks. Berkshire Hills Bancorp, with its 44 Business Capital unit specializing in SBA loans, has been at the forefront of this trend, providing crucial support to women entrepreneurs like Kari Mathes.

Empowering Local Banks

The SBA provides a unique opportunity for smaller banks to compete with larger institutions by leveraging their knowledge of local markets. Smaller banks, like Berkshire Hills Bancorp, have been able to use their expertise and experience to reach entry-level customers and expand their loan portfolios. With SBA loans, these banks can say “yes” to borrowers who may not have qualified for conventional commercial loans, thereby fostering economic growth within their communities.

Cultural Implications

A Symbol of Community Resilience

K&M Bowling has become more than just a bowling alley—it has become a symbol of the community’s resilience and determination to overcome challenges. The Mathes family’s efforts to reopen the alley have inspired others in the town, showing that even in the face of adversity, it is possible to revive and thrive. The bowling alley has become a gathering place for locals, both serious league players and part-timers, fostering a sense of camaraderie and community spirit.

Conclusion

The story of K&M Bowling and the Mathes family is a testament to the power of small business loans and the impact they can have on local communities. SBA loans have not only provided a lifeline for women-led businesses like K&M Bowling, but they have also empowered smaller banks to support and invest in their communities. As more women entrepreneurs take the leap into business ownership, SBA loans will continue to play a vital role in driving economic growth and fostering a sense of community. With success stories like K&M Bowling, it is clear that small business loans are a win-win for women-run startups and smaller banks.

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