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Loans offer young entrepreneurs a start

IT'S never easy to start a business, and that's especially true for young people who don't have the assets or credit history to secure a business loan.

IT'S never easy to start a business, and that's especially true for young people who don't have the assets or credit history to secure a business loan.

But now British Columbia's credit unions are offering loans of up to $5,000 to young entrepreneurs based solely on the quality of their idea. The program is called Be Remarkable.

"It's a province-wide program run by Central 1, which is the financial facility and trade association for B.C. and Ontario credit unions," said Catharine Downes, assistant vice-president for marketing at North Shore Credit Union. "The idea is to target what we loosely term young adults, people age 19 to 29."

The emphasis of the program is to support those young adults in doing something that promotes community development. Although handing out low-interest loans purely on the strength of a "remarkable idea" might seem like more of a social responsibility initiative, Downes said it's actually based on some hard-nosed business planning.

"We want to encourage them to use credit unions for their banking and other financial needs," she said. "In this age demographic, we are a bit of a blank slate. People don't really understand that credit unions are full service retail financial institutions and they can look after not just your banking and your borrowing but also investing, insurance and other products. You've got to get young people in the door if you expect to have them for their lifetime, because people tend to stick where they have their banking relationships."

Geoff Darling runs his own landscaping company - Darling's Lawn & Garden Services - that offers both property maintenance and new yard construction. The 29-year-old Pemberton Heights resident was looking to grow his business, but the banks weren't interested in helping.

"My business hasn't been set up long enough to have the proper credit," he said. "But a financial advisor at the North Shore Credit Union branch told me there's this new Be Remarkable thing, and they don't go off your credit score, they go off what your idea is."

Darling applied, and soon had a $5,000 loan.

"Last year I went out on a limb with some bigger installations but this year I definitely want to focus on my maintenance work. The loan really helped me go out and get the tools I need to function properly. I was using the Home Depot rental stuff and I was always having problems with them. It allowed me to get business cards and the lawn mower I need. It gave me that little push I needed to start moving in the right direction. It helped a lot. The process was pretty decent - a lot different than when you apply for a bank loan. They phoned and they were helpful and they really listened to what my ideas were."

With the tools he needs to secure ongoing contracts, Darling hopes to generate enough cash flow to realize another ambition for his business, which is to make it as environmentally friendly as possible.

"There is new equipment coming out with lower emissions. Those are just starting to appear so it's certainly something I'll be looking at in the future," he said. "I'm also looking at going back to school to get a horticulture degree and really understand soils and native plants and so on. In North Vancouver especially, there are a lot of solid landscaping companies that are very good at what they do. So you have really high standards. Last year was a really good year for me and this year should be too. This loan has given a great jumpstart."

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