Blanche Vega will tell you that starting a business is hard. She will also tell you that she feels lucky to be able to take on such a challenge.
Blanche moved here from the Philippines in 2013 to join her husband’s parents. She worked at the Whirlpool plant in Amana and also tried customer service, but her dream was always to start her own business.
With her mother-in-law, who also has an entrepreneurial spirit, Blanche started making and selling traditional Filipino food at cultural festivals, including Cedar Rapids’ AsianFest. When people started asking where they were located, Blanche knew they had a shot at turning it into a regular business.
“I started looking at locations, and when I came to NewBo they told me about the MICRO Loan Program,” Blanche explains. NewBo City Market, which houses nearly thirty local vendors, also acts as an incubator for these upstarts. The Market connects entrepreneurs to mentors and experts to help them start and grow their businesses.
A $10,000 loan through MICRO helped Blanche open the Pinoy Café last September. There, she and her mother-in-law team up to serve popular Filipino dishes like lumpia, halo-halo, pancit bihon and bubble tea. With an interest rate of just 4%, the MICRO loan has helped Blanche get her business off the ground.
It hasn’t been easy, but the Pinoy Café is seeing growth. “In January and February, with the bad weather keeping people away, I often wondered if I should just quit,” Blanche explains. But drawing inspiration from popular stories of entrepreneurship, Blanche stuck with it. This spring she even moved to a bigger stall at NewBo so she can expand the menu.
“I know a lot of people want to start businesses but can’t,” she says. “It’s a privilege to be able to pursue this, and the MICRO loan helped so much with my startup expenses.”
MICRO loans are available to anyone looking to start or grow a business within Cedar Rapids. Loans range from $1,000 to $10,000 to be paid back in up to three years at 4% interest.