The Vermont Community Loan Fund (VCLF) has announced the launch of SPROUT, a low-interest, deferred payment loan program for working lands entrepreneurs. The new financing program was created to meet the capital needs of Vermont farms, food producers & processors, foresters, forest products businesses and others in the start-up and early stages of operations. Earlier this year, SPROUT received start-up support from the Working Lands Enterprise Board.
SPROUT offers deferred-payment, low-interest loans of up to $60,000 at 0% with no payments for the first two years, with a 2% fixed rate thereafter. VCLF will also coordinate comprehensive business development and financial planning/management technical assistance tailored to meet borrowers’ individual needs, free-of-charge.
“SPROUT financing will provide a powerful tool for emerging working lands businesses who have exciting growth opportunities,” said VCLF Executive Director Will Belongia. “There isn’t a loan product like SPROUT currently available to working lands entrepreneurs in Vermont. SPROUT’s rates and terms will allow VCLF to extend financing and free technical assistance to businesses who otherwise wouldn’t qualify for a VCLF loan,” Belongia added.
The Full (Sun) Story
The timing couldn’t have been better for David McManus and Netaka White. The cofounders of the young Full Sun Company were readying shipments of their extra virgin, cold-pressed, non-GMO culinary sunflower and canola oils to hit the shelves in time for holiday baking and cooking, when they learned they’d been approved as the very first SPROUT borrowers.
“First, we were told that our loan was approved,” says Netaka, “THEN, we were told there were no loan payments for the first two years, AND a low-interest rate. It was like: ‘There’s good news…and then there’s good news,” he adds, laughing. “The SPROUT program was the icing on the cake.”
Full Sun fit the ideal profile for SPROUT financing, as a young enterprise poised for significant growth. Netaka’s entrepreneurial roots run deep: over the years, he’s started a small bakery and a hemp cloth bag manufacturing and retail operation. He also spent several years heading up the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund’s Bioenergy Program, where he met future business partner, David.
The pair’s initial interest in oils was as an energy source. “But then it flipped from energy to food and feed,” says Netaka. In addition to canola and sunflower oils, Full Sun also processes its seeds – which are largely locally or regionally sourced - into meal for animal feed.
“We’d been working on Full Sun for a while,” explains David. “We started with the concept and came up with the business model back in about 2010, and incorporated in 2012. But, we realized we couldn’t fund it ourselves,” he says.
While Netaka oversees operations, David covers sales and business development, skills he honed with organic meats giant Applegate Farms. But, even with their combined experience, the two say they’re eager to take advantage of SPROUT’s business consulting and technical assistance.
“It’s true we’re both experienced entrepreneurs,” says David. “But we’re still trying to wrap our heads around things like how to be profitable, managing costs, our seed supply and pricing,” he says. “And VCLF also has those deeper mentoring connections we can benefit from,” he adds.
Sales are already rising, with major accounts at the University of Vermont’s dining halls and Medical Center, multiple restaurants and six hospitals spanning Vermont, New Hampshire and the Boston area.
The two credit VCLF for giving Full Sun a full jump start. “VCLF understands that our success is closely tied to agricultural production in Vermont. VCLF has a long history of supporting companies with that tie,” says Netaka.
“If not for VCLF, we’d still be shopping around for a lender or investors,” David adds. “Plus, part of our mission is to keep the money local, the supply local. VCLF, in supporting local businesses, is a very important part of that circle.”
Since 1987, VCLF has loaned over $90 million to local businesses, affordable housing developers and community-based organizations that has created or preserved 5,200 jobs; built or rehabilitated 4,000 affordable homes; created or preserved quality care for over 3,700 children and their families; and supported community organizations providing vital services to hundreds of thousands of Vermonters.