Led by Janie Barrera for over the past three decades, the nonprofit lender LiftFund, estimates 25,000 small businesses in 15 states have received nearly half a billion dollars in loans of under $50,000 or less.
Barrera said that’s $30 million a year, the vast majority paid in full.
“We have got 96% of it paid back,” said Barrera, a Corpus Christi native who graduated from the University of the Incarnate Word.
She said small business owners understand that, unlike banks that are highly regulated, LiftFund is a nonprofit with more leeway.
“Other people have said no, but we can say yes,” Barrera said. “They want to honor that and be respectful of that and pay us back.”
Coming to the rescue of small business owners when they need it most, Barrera said in a sense what she was meant to do.
Business-minded from the start
Even as a little girl, Barrera was an entrepreneur at heart.
When she wanted a new bicycle, Barrera said her mother told her no, she already had a perfectly good bike.
Barrera recalls she didn’t let that stop her.
Little Janie asked, “If raise the money, can I buy that bike?” And she said, “Sure, how are you going to raise the money?”
Barrera said went door-to-door in her neighborhood, selling raffle tickets to win her old bicycle, enough to buy the new one.
“That was my first entrepreneurial experience when I was 10 years old,” Barrera said.
After all, Barrera said one of her mother’s dichos, or sayings, was, “Where there’s a will there’s a way.”
Entered the convent after high school
Having been raised in the Catholic Church and educated in Catholic schools, Barrera said she was inspired by the goodness of the nuns in her life at that point.
Although her decision to become a nun after high school had gotten a mixed reaction from her parents, Barrera entered the convent.
As a nun, Barrera would help start radio and television stations in Corpus Christi and Laredo airing Catholic programming.
However, when a new bishop arrived, Barrera said he wouldn’t let her apply for the job as general manager.
“He said, ‘you can work for the person that I hire,’” Barrera said. “I was devastated.”
After earning an MBA at Incarnate Word, Barrera eventually left the order.
Yet in her role as president and CEO of LiftFund, having helped thousands of small business owners realize their goals, Barrera said, “I still believe I’m doing God’s work.”