Last year, LISC launched its newest subsidiary, the SBA-guaranteed lender immito, to scale our ability to reach and support underserved small businesses and help spur job growth across the country. Julie Huston, immito’s founding president, is a seasoned small business expert—in fact, she recently testified before Congress re: new budget proposals that would hamper small business entrepreneurs’ access to credit (watch her here). We caught up with Huston at her base in Denver to learn more about immito, the economic and social power of small business, and why all this is so close to Huston’s heart.
To mark Small Business Week, May 6-10, we are celebrating the entrepreneurs we work with all across the country who are creating jobs, invigorating their local economies and pursuing big visions. And we proudly recognize the efforts of our small business divisions, including immito and LISC's Kiva partnership, that help people transform those visions into reality.
Q: Why should people pay attention to immito?
A: The most basic description of immito is that we are a nonbank Small Business Administration (SBA) lender—one of only 14 licenses in the country—and we hope to do $100 million in originations over the next few years. But, that doesn’t really begin to describe who we are or how we work.
Our team knows from experience that small business lending is not just about the numbers; it’s about asking the right questions, and by listening to individual stories and helping develop solutions that propel owners on their journey. If it were only about the numbers, these businesses might not get financing elsewhere. And yet, they can be tremendously successful when they can access the capital they need. That’s why the SBA program exists, and that’s why immito was created. This is personal for us because small businesses are personal to the people who launch and operate them. It’s the basis for our business approach.
That’s terrific, but what’s with the name? Why immito?
Literally, in Latin, immitto [with an extra “t”] means “to launch” or “to send forth.” For us, it illustrates the notion of starting, growing, maturing, and ensuring businesses can survive when it is time for an owner to move on; it’s the whole lifecycle of a small business. We approach our lending as being part of that journey. That might mean support to add a new product line, or buy a new building, or transfer ownership from one generation to the next. And, in helping preserve business, we can help preserve the fabric of the communities where they are located, whether we’re talking about a neighborhood coffee shop, or a small manufacturer offering good jobs, or the laundromat down the street that people have relied on for years.
What makes immito different? What are you offering that other lenders aren’t?
We are focused on the gaps. No one lender can be all things to all markets. We work in all 50 states, with a particular affinity for enterprises that others might not be able to support—like businesses in rural areas, an industry that others have concentrations in, customers in low-to-moderate income areas, or owned by women and people of color, or operating in a sector that has social and economic upside in terms of jobs, but is tough to underwrite, like manufacturing.
I think the main thing is that we come to the work of small business lending with a different perspective than the traditional—we understand that these businesses are so much more than a job to the people who own them. They are an avocation and a passion. It is difficult to meet their needs if you approach this like it’s a commodity business. We care about the stories of the people and places where we work, and that flows through to the way we approach every aspect of our work.
Can you give an example of a deal that illustrates immito’s approach?
The first one that comes to mind is an early childhood education center in Atlanta called The Westside School. It is an amazing place operated by amazing people! The owners have put everything they have into buying, revitalizing and expanding an aging daycare facility that is now a vibrant, innovative educational center in a neighborhood with a need for high-quality, affordable daycare. It was incredibly compelling to meet the owners, listen to their aspirations, see their deep commitment, and figure out how to help them reach their goals. It’s why we are in this business. ( A Wall Street Journal article featured Westside School and their loan from immito.)
You’ve had a long, highly respected career in small business lending, and are a small business owner yourself. Why come to immito?
I made my first small business loan when I was 26, many years ago, and I didn’t know anything—but, then again, neither did anyone else. When I interviewed for the job, the company said they wanted to hire a girl who understood numbers and could sell. I learned pretty quickly that I could de-commoditize small business lending by understanding the SBA program better than others might, and by listening closely to the stories of potential borrowers to find the best way to apply that knowledge to help them.
Julie Huston, President & CEO, immito
Julie has more than 25 years of small business lending includes key positions at global banks, financial services companies and consulting firms. She also chairs the boards of the National Association of Government Guaranteed Lenders (NAGGL).