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Philanthropic Partnership Opportunities with WESST – 2020-2021







Brief History of WESST:

The Women’s Economic Self-Sufficiency Team, Corp dba WESST is a 501(c)(3) statewide organization and New Mexico’s third largest economic development organization. WESST is committed to growing New Mexico’s economy via entrepreneurship. With a 30-year history of serving women, people of color and low-wealth New Mexicans, WESST offers comprehensive business development services from the pre-startup stage through growth and repositioning. Over the past 3 decades, WESST has provided business services including training and consultations, lending, and incubation to over 39,000 New Mexicans, helped create 5,319 new jobs, facilitated the start-up of 2,605 small businesses, and loaned over $9.5 million to 904 borrowers.

The impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic will adversely impact small businesses in New Mexico for years to come. This is particularly concerning for our state and local economies given that small and microbusinesses (those with fewer than 20 employees) comprise over 88% of all businesses in the state.

Concurrently, the death of George Floyd has sparked global outrage and has catapulted issues of race, equity and inclusion into the national spotlight. As an organization founded to facilitate economic opportunities for diverse entrepreneurs (women, people of color, LGBTQ, veterans and low-wealth New Mexicans), we are even more committed to working towards our vision of an inclusive, thriving economy.

The WESST RISE Campaign

WESST RISE is a multi-pronged initiative that supports New Mexico’s diverse small businesses, particularly those which have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Short for Responding to, Impacting, Supporting and Elevating our small business community, our RISE campaign provides a framework for distinct program initiatives targeted to different segments of diverse entrepreneurs. There are many specific ways you can join WESST and help New Mexico’s small business community RISE.

A. HOPE Loan Fund

People of color own half as many businesses as non-minorities and their businesses start and stay smaller in comparison. For Black and Indigenous Americans and people of color, the challenges are daunting.

  1. Black households in the US possess on average about one-tenth the median net worth of White households.
  2. Native Americans are nearly twice as likely to live in poverty as Americans overall (25.4% vs. 8.1% for White Americans).
  3. Latino households earn only 65% as much as White households on average.
  4. Black business owners start businesses with half the capital of White business owners.
  5. Loan denial rates for minority firms with gross receipts under $500,000 are three times higher than those of non-minority firms.

WESST is establishing the HOPE Loan Fund to “Help Open Possibilities for Everyone” by reducing barriers to accessing capital for people of color and historically marginalized populations. The Fund will offer no-fee loans ranging from $500 to $50,000 at 0% interest with a potential for a 10% loan forgiveness incentive per annum. The forgiveness incentive will be contingent on the borrower maintaining an active client relationship with WESST. In addition to waived fees, interest rates and a forgiveness incentive, the HOPE Fund will provide the opportunity to mitigate barriers associated with collateral, credit history and other financial challenges.

B. The Money Learning Lab™

An Achilles heel to entrepreneurial success is the lack of deep understanding of business financials. The Money Learning Lab™ (MLL) was seeded with a two-year grant from the Kauffman Foundation which supported a Human-Centered Design approach to help diverse entrepreneurs learn about the financial fitness of their business, connect entrepreneurs with financial and business experts who can help them address their most pressing financial and business issues and provide peer networking opportunities. Designed as an accessible mobile resource that can be offered in local neighborhoods where small business owners live and work, the MLL has been modified to be delivered virtually in response to COVID-19. Key to its success are partnerships with other community-based organizations and the provision of MLL services in both English and Spanish. MLL sessions are offered throughout the year.

C. Women Who RISE

Founded by women for women in 1989, WESST remains committed to serving the small business needs of New Mexico’s women. The COVID-19 pandemic has been difficult for all Americans; however, women are bearing an unusually high burden – they represent over 70% of healthcare and social workers; they are the predominant caregivers at home, particularly for school-age children; they are mobilizers in their local communities; and they earn only $.79 for every dollar earned by men.

To address some of the unique challenges facing women business owners, through June 2021 WESST will offer a special Women Who RISE Program which will provide women across New Mexico the opportunity to build business knowledge and skills and the space to be heard and respected as a small business owner. In addition to providing training and networking opportunities, the program will also recruit seasoned business owners and other female executives who will share their guidance and wisdom on making it as a woman-owned business.

D. La Escalera

La Escalera (the stairway) is a multi-week training program that provides a safe and welcoming environment in which immigrant entrepreneurs can gather with their peers, share concerns and gain access to services that will support them in pursuing their dreams of business ownership. Through the delivery of key entrepreneurial development services, La Escalera provides an accelerated pathway for immigrant entrepreneurs to: 1) formalize their business; 2) improve business skills in the areas of financial management, marketing and business compliance; 3) gain access to or improve use of banking services; and 4) join a network of support to start and grow their business. The program is offered in Spanish to a virtual audience throughout the state. La Escalera sessions are offered throughout the year.

To learn more about how to become a partner in supporting WESST RISE programs, please contact VP of Development Katie Knipe at or at 423-963-0066.