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Meet Mike O’Donnell of Colorado Lending Source in Downtown Denver

Today we’d like to introduce you to Mike O’Donnell.

Mike, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
My father had a small retail community grocery store business while I was growing up, and I worked there during my high school and college years. After leaving college, I was lucky enough to be employed by Ford Australia where I worked in export, leasing and government sales for eight years before deciding to undertake an MBA at the Australian Graduate School of Management in Sydney, Australia.

While I completing my MBA, I met my wife-to-be, who was from Kansas, lost the toss, and had to move to Kansas. I managed to get a position with the University of Kansas Small Business Development Center (SBDC) which led to an adjunct faculty position and the chance to help represent the University on a USIA project in L’viv, Ukraine. After ten years in Kansas, I managed to escape to Colorado to take on the role of Senior Loan Officer at Colorado Lending Source, which led to me becoming the executive director a year later when the board fired my boss.

Twenty years later, Colorado Lending Source has grown from two employees to 34, and despite being a nonprofit organization, is the largest US Small Business Administration (SBA) lender in the state year-after-year. I helped the organization create a non-SBA program called the Colorado Main Street loan program which is one of the few character-based lending models in the nation, where we make loans of up to $50,000 to small businesses on the basis of character and capacity NOT collateral and credit score. One hundred percent of our Colorado Main Street loans go to underserved and underestimated small business populations, and more than 70% to start-up businesses who very few other nonprofit or for-profit lenders can be bothered working with.

Entrepreneurship is a way for individuals to create wealth for themselves, their families and their communities. As fewer and fewer new small businesses get started each year, and the big businesses continue to get bigger, the underlying fabric of US society is being rent in twain and my passion is to see if I can reverse this less than desirable trend.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
Life is full of challenges and struggles. Uprooting and moving to a new country in a different hemisphere is not easy. Especially when the immigration authorities misplace all your documentation and you have to wait an extra six months before being legally able to work. Moving from a country where I’d never owned a heavy coat before to a state where you live in one for three months of the year also took some adjustment, as did jogging in sub-zero temperatures.

Eventually becoming a lender and not coming from a banking background was actually a positive for me as an entrepreneurial individual and small business consultant/educator of sorts, I didn’t realize what I couldn’t do so it was easy to be innovative and creative in trying to develop opportunities for small businesses to start, grow and add sustainable, living-wage jobs in their communities.

On a national level, the biggest struggle new entrepreneurs have is that the vast majority of lenders in the US are lazy and rely so much on someone’s credit score and how much collateral they have. Or how much their spouse makes, as the primary determinants of whether or not an individual is “credit worthy” or not. This is just so bogus. As a consequence of this current recession, many people’s credit will be cactus so banks and many nonprofits won’t be making many loans to small businesses for young small businesses anytime soon. Look for the continued demise of entrepreneurship in the United States. Unless we can slow or reverse that trend.

Please tell us about Colorado Lending Source.
Colorado Lending Source is a mission-based nonprofit corporation. Our mission is to foster the economic growth of diverse small businesses in our community. And although we are the largest SBA lender in the state, and help many community banks access the SBA programs so that they can better compete with larger banks and remain relevant to their communities, there is nothin in the mission statement that mentions “SBA”.

Accordingly, once the global financial crisis / the last “great” recession (soon to be eclipsed by this one) hit, and I realized the banks and most nonprofit lenders had given up on making loans to startups, we were able to start down the road of bootstrapping the creation of the Colorado Main Street loan program to meet the huge unmet need we have in Colorado for helping early-stage businesses owned by underserved and underestimated populations of small business owners.

I’m proud of many things. The amazing staff focused, as I am, on our mission. The fact that Colorado Lending Source isn’t an organization willing to accept the status quo and will go to the Hill to change policy for the better. And that we are doing whatever we can to help individuals and families escape the tedium of working for big businesses by creating wealth for themselves and their communities through pursuit of the entrepreneurial dream.

If you had to go back in time and start over, would you have done anything differently?
We Australians aren’t great respecters of authority. It is part of our DNA. Along with football, meat pies, kangaroos and Holden cars. I have no regrets. I wouldn’t have done anything differently.

Pricing:

  • We help facilitate SBA 504 loans, which are used to help finance owner-occupied commercial real estate — 25 year fixed rate (July) 2.410%
  • We help facilitate SBA Community Advantage loans, which are pre-bankable direct loan to businesses unable to secure funding from banks – July interest rate is 7.75%
  • We help make Colorado Main Street loans to small businesses unable to access affordable, friendly financing anywhere else – July interest rates range from 0% to 7.75%

Contact Info:

CLS Annual Meeting
January 2019

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