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Interest-free loans, free tech workshops to help women start online sales 

Giovana Bracchi, executive director of La Fuerza Community

Giovana Bracchi, executive director of La Fuerza Community Development Corp., says the group is offering loans of up to $3,000 for the purchase of technology hardware and software. Credit: Christopher Lippolt

A new microloan program aims to put computers, software and cellphones in the hands of women entrepreneurs, so they can reach customers online during the coronavirus pandemic and beyond, officials said.

La Fuerza Community Development Corp., a financial institution based in East Norwich, is offering loans of up to $3,000 for the purchase of technology hardware and software. The loans come with virtual workshops on tech and business topics.

The Providing Opportunities for Women Entrepreneurs on the Rise program, or P.O.W.E.R., is open to women who own businesses on Long Island. The companies must have fewer than 20 employees and revenue of $1 million or less per year. The owner's yearly income cannot exceed $84,065.

The interest-free loans can be repaid over two to three years, said La Fuerza executive director Giovana Bracchi, adding "they can pay what they can afford on a monthly basis."

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Many of the delis, day care centers, dry cleaners, restaurants and other small businesses that La Fuerza has been helping to survive the coronavirus pandemic are unable to do online sales.

"A lot of them are not up to speed with technology," Bracchi said. "They don’t have a computer, they don’t have a cellphone … We want to get people online, so they can start engaging with internet customers."

The cost of the workshops, which loan recipients are required to attend, is being paid for with an ongoing $125,000 grant from Bank of America, a longtime funder of La Fuerza. There will be sessions on building a website, taking online orders, marketing goods and services online and using Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms to reach customers.

Participants will receive a website domain that’s free to them for the first year, computer set up and installation of Zoom software for virtual meetings.

"These technology loans are for individuals who really need them," Bracchi said, adding she hopes to help 25 business owners initially. "We want to get them setup [for online sales] so they are ready" for the next crisis. "Small businesses need technology to survive."

COVID-19 has presented small businesses with "staggering" challenges, said Bob Isaksen, president of Bank of America’s Long Island operations. The bank is committed to working with La Fuerza and other local groups to "solve these new challenges and address existing amplified challenges for women business owners," he said.

La Fuerza’s technology loan program follows the April debut of a loan program for minority-owned businesses in Nassau and Suffolk counties that have been harmed by the coronavirus. The Entrepreneurs of Color COVID-19 Relief Fund offers loans of up to $40,000, with an interest rate of 3% and term of 36 months.

Bracchi said the fund from La Fuerza, BOC Capital Corp. and JPMorgan Chase & Co. is still taking loan applications.

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Who can get a loan: Women who own small businesses on Long Island and have yearly income of $84,065. The business must have fewer than 20 employees and annual revenue of $1 million or less

Loan terms: Up to $3,000 per applicant, interest-free and two to three years to pay it back

What money can be used for: Computers, software and cellphones

Educational workshops: Borrowers are required to attend virtual workshops on technology and business operations. A grant from Bank of America is covering the cost of the workshops.

SOURCE: La Fuerza Community Development Corp.

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