By Virginia Bridges
The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.)
When Leon Grodski de Barrera and his wife started planning for what is now Cocoa Cinnamon, they had $75 in the bank.
“This is not in any way an exaggeration,” said Grodski de Barrera, co-owner of the Durham coffee shop on Geer Street.
So the entrepreneurs set out on an alternative funding journey, cobbling together resources wherever they could find them.
In 2011, they received a $5,000 loan from the father of a friend and eventually turned that into bikeCOFFEE and built community credibility by selling beverages from a bike.
After a successful crowdfunding campaign and various layers of support and loans from friends and supporters, they opened Cocoa Cinnamon in January 2013.
Two years later, the couple has paid back most of the debt and has established financial credibility. They plan to use business savings along with exploring a variety of lending options, such as traditional and other loans, to open a second location.
While the company’s story is outstanding, it is but one of thousands of small-business journeys in which owners were tenacious in starting and sustaining their business during and following the recession. The economic flux and related layoffs and pay cuts revealed a generation of entrepreneurs who hustled to raise or sustain capital while consumers were holding on to their dollars.
Over the years, however, the economic environment has clearly shifted as small-business owners’ access to capital appears to be increasing along with government, private and nonprofit organizations and programs catering to small companies.
Small firms have been a big part of the state’s improving economy.
North Carolina has more than 800,000 small firms, which employ 1.5 million people, account for 45 percent of the private sector and contribute nearly half of the state’s gross product, according to the “State of Small Business and Entreprenuership” report recently released by the N.C. Small Business & Technology Development Center.