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Building Power and Community Wealth Through Flexible Capital.

We sat down with Amina Abdula-Malik, Director of Investments at WEPOWER to discuss the city’s history, and how Revenue-Based Financing can become a vehicle to change lives for the better.

Authors: Cristina Diaz-Borda, Editorial Manager

Meet St. Louis’s WEPOWER.

St. Louis was witness to civil rights demonstrations in the 1960s, including a visit from Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the scaling of the Arch. Notably, within that civil rights history were the 1963 Jefferson Bank Protests—intrinsically tying the city to a history of fighting for not just civil rights as we know it now, but an outright push for economic justice in fighting against job discrimination. 

According to STL Today, “the protests endure as the most significant area event of the modern civil rights era. From its ranks rose many political leaders, including [William] Clay, who went to Congress; and Raymond Howard and Louis Ford, who became Missouri legislators. And it led to better jobs for blacks in St. Louis.”

Sixty years later, according to current census data, 35% of the city identifies as BIPOC—but BIPOC people make up 66% of the city’s impoverished population. This brings us to WEPOWER, our local partners, who are dedicated to re-thinking education, economic, health, and justice systems with help from their community. By working with them, we’re tapping into a truly connected group of community leaders—who live, breathe, and champion the solutions uplifting Black and Latin communities in the city.

Eric Horvath, Common Future Director of Capital Strategies explained, “what stood out most to me —what led me to later tell my colleagues ‘these are the local leaders we all need to put our hope and resource behind’—was that during our whirlwind 12-hour visit to St. Louis, we not only met community members working on building local BIPOC wealth but the ease in which these meetups took place. We met up on the street in various neighborhoods, at local businesses—and for some—via simple texts saying ‘hey, we have some cool folks here from a national partner, you should come through’. The breadth and depth of WEPOWER’s relationships to their community felt more than authentic—it felt familial.”

That is why we are also proud to announce that they are our partners for the St. Louis Revenue-Based Financing (RBF) Pilot program. 

RBF is an investment that has a variable repayment schedule, which fluctuates based on revenue. For example—if a business has $100 in revenue and a 5% revenue-based payment per month, it will repay $5. If it has $0 revenue due to a global pandemic, it will repay $0. This strategy combines the best parts of equity—more flexible repayment, so cash isn’t taken out of a growing business—and debt, which doesn’t take ownership away from the business owner.




We sat down with Amina Abdula-Malik, Director of Investments at WEPOWER to discuss the city’s history, and how Revenue-Based Financing can become a vehicle to change lives for the better.

Common Future (CF): The 1963 Jefferson Bank Protests put economic justice on the map for your city early on. How does that legacy live in current efforts for Black and Latin families?

Amina Abdula-Malik (AAM): The legacy of the Jefferson Bank Protests and other showings of collective strength has served as an ever-lasting reminder of the unfavorable history of our economic and social systems, and the limitless possibilities of organized people and power. 

This legacy lives on in current efforts for Black and Latinx families, by being a catalyst for an active civil rights movement within St. Louis and providing ongoing inspiration for current and future generations of changing systems at multiple levels—mental models, policies, and resource flows. 

From the Delmar Divide to the East Saint Louis riots, communities of color have been consistently steered away from forming strength in knowledge. Leaders of now and tomorrow are working to heal the centuries’ worth of damage done to our economic, justice, and social systems. Here in St. Louis, segregation practices have plagued our region’s housing practices and economic activity. In our historic Ville neighborhood, racial covenants buried in housing deeds from the past reveal the unfortunate reality for Black and Latinx communities then and illustrate the picture that WEPOWER and many others are painting over now. 

CF: What are the challenges of starting and running a small business in St. Louis?

AAM: Starting a business in St. Louis comes with many challenges as a Black or Brown entrepreneur. Black and Latin neighborhoods historically lack access to property, health, and wealth. This historical oppression creates a scarcity mindset within these underserved communities that impacts how entrepreneurs define success and value. The channels for entrepreneurship support are fragmented, and access to critical resources is veiled behind systemic inequity and culturally insensitive doors. 

I always say that entrepreneurs have all the real-world knowledge and wisdom, and the individuals and organizations serving them are just adding the necessary structure to realize their vision. The convoluted nature of accessing and utilizing these resources in St. Louis creates a feeble ecosystem that doesn’t fully address the emergent needs of an emerging or growing business. 

CF: Why flexible capital? What will RBF do for the St. Louis Black and Latin community? 

AAM: When you’re an entrepreneur trying to start or grow a business, the associated costs can seem like immovable barriers to realizing your dreams. The capital continuum in St. Louis is wide and varied in terms of capital types and accessibility—and traditional capital has been historically denied to Black and Latinx business owners. This variety of capital, and the disparity in accessing these instruments, stimulates the need for flexible financing options for entrepreneurs, especially those in underserved communities. 

Revenue-based financing (RBF) fills a gap for entrepreneurs seeking accessible funding during critical moments in their business journey. RBF provides entrepreneurs with capital that has fewer surprises and offers adequate space for the common variances in a business’s sales cycle. This capital type helps moderate risk, provide flexibility, and give growing companies the working capital they need quickly and efficiently. RBF provides St. Louis Black and Latinx entrepreneurs with a non-extractive funding option that invests in their businesses and community. 

CF: What are some businesses you’ve seen try and fail without access to flexible capital? 

AAM: I have witnessed first-hand the veiled capital continuum’s negative impact here in St. Louis. My father’s plumbing company dealt with periods of stagnation due to his inability to access the flexible capital necessary to scale up. I have witnessed many brick-and-mortar companies in North St. Louis city access large amounts of sales and customer volume, leading to closure due to growing quicker than the capital they can access and sustain. One of the most common challenges with fast business growth is ordering your steps and thoroughly accounting for the ebbs and flows of a growing company. The delicate nature of cash flow timing can impair a business’s path to sustainable profit levels when they cannot access adaptable funding in the amounts they need when they need it most. 

CF: What type of jobs will RBF lead to in the community? How might increased access to flexible financing help build BIPOC community wealth?

AAM: RBF stabilizes the path toward sustainable, high-paying, private-sector jobs based on the establishment or growth of new and emerging companies. Scaling businesses need access to versatile capital that is vital to procure talented individuals and place them in roles that help build their own capacities and their employers. Moreover, entrepreneurship is an ever-emergent journey, and RBF provides a more straightforward path to generational wealth building by being a non-extractive tool for leveraging business ownership. 

CF: Thank you so much for your time, Amina.

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