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As NY Lending License Proposal Looms, Industry Trade Groups Mobilize

February 13, 2017
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NY State Capitol

The alternative small-business finance community plans to lobby hard against a far-reaching proposed expansion of the New York state lending license. The proposal calls for any person or company that solicits, arranges or facilitates business and consumer loans – or other types of financing – to obtain a license. That could include MCA companies, business loan brokers and ISOs.

Critics claim the expansion, which Governor Andrew M. Cuomo included in his proposed state budget, could trigger a series of ominous and possibly unintended events in the courts and on Wall Street. “It could destroy the industry if the worst comes to fruition,” declared Robert Cook, a partner at Hudson Cook LLP.

Read an analysis of the proposal by two Hudson Cook attorneys here

Some opponents also contend that the public hasn’t had a reasonable opportunity to respond. “Sneaking a provision with significant impact like this into the budget and not going through regular order is really disturbing,” said Dan Gans, a Washington lobbyist who also serves as executive director of the the Commercial Finance Coalition. “They should allow all the stakeholders to have their voices heard.”

The industry’s trade groups have been quick to react. The Small Business Finance Association has been in contact with New York state legislators to help them understand the ramifications of the proposal, according to Stephen Denis, the trade group’s executive director. Meanwhile, Gans is recommending that the CFC’s board hire an Albany lobbying firm to help advance the industry’s interests.

New York’s current consumer licensing law is written broadly enough to cover any loan to an individual for less than $25,000, even if it’s made for commercial purposes, said Cook. That means the current law could cover loans to sole proprietorships but would not affect loans to corporations, limited liability companies, partnerships or limited liability partnerships, he noted.

Albany CapitolUnder the proposal in Governor Cuomo’s budget, any type of commercial loan of up to $50,000 would require a license, Cook said. Today, the state requires a license only if a loan carries a simple interest rate of more than 16 percent. Under the budget proposal, all lending would require a license, even if the interest rate is less than 16 percent. Loans made by alternative funders typically carry interest rates of 36 percent to 100 percent, he said.

New York already has a criminal usury rate of 25 percent, but lenders have two methods of avoiding that cap, according to Cook. Under one method, the parties to the loan can use a provision called the “choice of law clause” and thus agree that the contract is subject to the laws of a state that does not limit commercial usury rates, he said. Or, using the second method, the small-business finance company can solicit the loan and refer it to a bank in a state without a cap. The bank makes the loan but then sells the loan back to the small-business finance company or an affiliate, he noted.

But adopting the changes proposed in the New York budget could possibly stymie both methods of circumventing the state’s usury laws. Consider the choice of law clause, Cook suggested. The courts could interpret the proposed expansion as an effort by the state to gain more control of commercial lending. That could prompt the courts to refuse to enforce choice of law clauses involving New York state because doing so would violate a significant policy in New York, he maintained. The proposal could also gut the second way around the usury law – the bank model – by requiring employees of out-of-state banks to have a license in order to originate loans or by prohibiting rates in excess of New York’s cap, he said. Both outcomes are speculative but constitute distinct possibilities, he added.

merchant cash advance regulations?Expanding the license would also grant additional regulatory authority to the New York State Department of Financial Services, Cook maintained. Besides requiring the license, the DFS would have the ability to regulate, supervise and examine commercial lenders, he said. In the past the department has imposed some significant regulations on licensees, including fair lending requirements and cyber security requirements, he said. “They’re a very active regulator,” he contended. “They could require commercial lenders to jump through a lot of hoops that aren’t there today.”

What’s more, time would pass while a company negotiates the initial hoops simply to obtain a license. Qualifying for the current New York license, for example, can take up to nine months, Cook said. “It’s a fairly intensive licensing process that requires a lot of information about the company, the officers and directors of the company,” he noted. “The licensing process is tough in New York.”

The expansion could also limit the industry’s access to capital, Cook warned. Some alternative funders raise money by selling loans or interests in loans on the secondary market. Requiring a license to buy those products could prompt Wall Street to look elsewhere for less-burdensome investment opportunities, he said.

The laundry list of potential bad effects has many in the industry wondering about the state’s intentions toward the industry. “It’s not clear whether the people up in Albany understand the potential effect this has,” Cook said.

To help bring about that understanding, the CFC intends to call upon its members and merchants who have benefitted from alternative finance to visit officials in the state capital, Gans said.

Gans finds reason for optimism as the associations coalesce around the issue. The state Senate in Albany tends to be pro-business, and I am confident we will find allies that will stand up to this, he said.

New York Assembly

CC-BY-SA-3.0/Matt H. Wade at Wikipedia

Denis also seems upbeat about the industry’s efforts to make itself heard in Albany. In Illinois, some legislators failed to differentiate between consumer loans and commercial loans when considering legislation last year, he noted. That might be the case in New York, too, and the SBFA might help them make the distinction, he said. As an example of the differences, he pointed out that business loans often carry high interest rates because of high risk. “We have talked to some folks in Albany, and everyone is receptive to the industry,” he said. Small business is a powerful constituency, he maintains.

Gans, Denis and Cook all said they’re not opposed to legislation or regulation that addresses problems caused by bad actors in the industry, but all three oppose government action that they believe unnecessarily limits members of the industry who are operating in good faith.

The proposed license in New York differs in at least one significant way from the California lending license that many alternative funders have obtained, Cook noted. The California license doesn’t impose a cap on interest rates, he said. If the New York proposal imposed licensing requirements but did not limit interest rates, the industry probably would reluctantly accept it, he suggested.

Dan Gans at the CFC can be contacted at
Stephen Denis at the SBFA can be contacted at
Robert Cook at Hudson Cook can be contacted at

New Industry Group Established to Support Consumers’ Right to Access their Financial Data

January 19, 2017
Article by:

The Consumer Financial Data Rights (CFDR) group defends consumers’ access to their data and fuels new innovation in fintech

REDWOOD CITY, Calif., Jan. 19, 2017 /PRNewswire/ — The Consumer Financial Data Rights (CFDR), a new industry group formed by some of the most recognized companies in the financial sector, officially launched today in support of the consumers’ right to innovative products and services that improve their financial well-being and are powered by unfettered access to their financial data. As fintech companies increasingly collaborate with banks around the world to provide innovative solutions through open application program interfaces (APIs), this right ensures a consumer can continue to give permission to third party companies to use that individual’s data for managing their personal finances, obtaining loans, making payments, and providing investment advice in addition to many other applications.

The CFDR brings together organizations from across the fintech ecosystem and includes some of the most influential and innovative companies in the financial sector, including the following founding members: Affirm, Betterment, Digit, Envestnet | Yodlee, Kabbage, Personal Capital, Ripple, and Varo Money among many other companies.

Section 1033 of Dodd-Frank codified the consumers’ right to access their personal financial data through technology-powered third party platforms. Together with promoting consumer choice and access to these consumer-first financial health tools, the CFDR is also committed to improving dialogue throughout the financial industry, actively engaging the government and working with banks, fintech innovators, and third party platforms. The CFDR aims to be a resource for policymakers, including the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, as they determine how to best assist consumers in leveraging their own financial data.

“Each consumer’s right to their own financial data is vital in helping to understand their finances and make the best saving and spending decisions,” said Max Levchin, Founder and CEO of Affirm. “As a company we’re committed to helping customers make the best financial decisions and improve their financial lives through technology and improved flexibility, and having a complete picture of a customer’s financial picture is essential to achieving this. As a founding member of the CFDR, we’re committed to ensuring that all consumers have access to data which makes their financial lives better.”

“Consumers and small business owners need to be able to view their entire financial picture to make decisions that are truly in their best interests,” said Rob Frohwein, Co-Founder of Kabbage. “The ability to freely access financial data empowers customers to take actions to improve their financial lives, whether it’s accessing capital to grow a business or better understanding their income streams. Access to financial data is not just vital for customers wanting to enjoy financial health, but it also allows companies to provide better user experiences. Kabbage is thrilled to join other companies also committed to democratizing access to financial data.”

CFDR’s first action will be the submission of a joint comment letter in response to an advanced notice of proposed rulemaking on Enhanced Cyber Risk Management Standards issued by the Federal Reserve, Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, and Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. The submission will encourage the regulators to establish a risk hierarchy with regard to cybersecurity risk in the fintech industry and will note the importance of continuing to allow consumers to access secure tools that enable their financial well-being.

“Consumers have the right to access financial solutions that allow them to improve their financial well-being,” said Anil Arora, CEO of Envestnet | Yodlee. “The CFDR is committed to initiatives that enable fintech innovation in the United States, much of which has transpired globally including recent open API initiatives in Europe, the Open Banking standard in the UK, and the commitment by the Monetary Authority of Singapore to create an open API economy and promote the secure use of cloud environments. The consumers’ right to unfettered access to their financial data will help enable the continued growth of innovative financial technologies and ultimately help consumers improve their financial health.”

About Consumer Financial Data Rights (CFDR)

The Consumer Financial Data Rights (CFDR) is a new industry group formed by some of the most recognized companies in the financial sector, launched to support the consumers’ right to unfettered access to their financial data. Open data acess is critical to enabling innovative tools that can help consumers improve their financial lives. CFDR members seek to: drive financial innovation in a collaborative ecosystem by bridging the needs of consumers, banks, fintech innovators, and regulators; partner with banks to support unfettered access to consumer and small business data through a secure and open financial system; and promote consumer rights to access and share their financial data with third party companies that provide tools to enable better financial outcomes.

SOURCE Envestnet | Yodlee

Knight Capital Funding Announces New Chief Data Scientist, Alex Kondratyev

December 11, 2016
Article by:

MIAMI, Dec. 9, 2016 /PRNewswire/ — Knight Capital Funding, a financial services company dedicated to delivering working capital to small and medium sized businesses in an efficient and transparent manner, announced the hiring of Alex Kondratyev as its Chief Data Scientist.

Kondratyev had been providing financial consulting to Knight Capital prior to accepting the role of Chief Data Scientist. He will be working out of Knight Capital’s new Silicon Valley office. Prior to joining Knight Capital, Kondratyev worked at Cadence Design Systems, a multinational electronic design automation software and engineering services company, as a senior software Architect. At Cadence he led and managed the scheduling group, which was responsible for a kernel of C-to-Silicon synthesis that involves about 20 man-years of development with more than 100,000 lines of C++ code.

“Alex will be integral to our data modeling in all aspects of our business. His expertise will play a critical role in our underwriting models, giving us the enhanced capabilities to mitigate potential fraud, while also increasing our approval ability to get working capital in the hands of small and medium sized businesses,” said Rich Ferrante, CFO at Knight Capital.

“I was intrigued by the rapid growth and unique technology platform at Knight Capital,” said Kondratyev. “I am very happy to have joined and to be a part of the largest funding and revenue months in the Company’s history, which gives us many data points to enhance the prediction power of our models.”

Alex KondratyevKondratyev has been in software design his whole career with a specialization in complex algorithms. He began his career as a professor in Logic Design and Foundations of programming. He then joined Cadence Design Systems where he was a founder of C-to-Silicon synthesis group. Later he moved to Xilinx Inc. and worked as Principal engineer before joining Knight Capital. Kondratyev has a Master’s in Computer Science as well as a Ph.D. in Computer Science from the esteemed Saint Petersburg Electrotechnical University in Russia. He holds seven U.S. patents, more than 50 Russian patents, and is co-author of two monographs on asynchronous synthesis with more than 120 conference and journal publications.

About Knight Capital, LLC
Founded in 2013 and with offices in New York, Silicon Valley, Florida, India and Dominican Republic, Knight is a leading financial technology company that provides customized financing solutions to small and medium size businesses in the United States. Knight leverages its leading technology platform to provide solutions to small and medium sized business owners with greater speed and flexibility than in the marketplace. Visit to learn more.

SOURCE Knight Capital Funding

Kalamata Capital Chairman Steven Mandis Authors Second Book

September 25, 2016
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Steven-MandisKalamata Capital Chairman Steven Mandis is doing more than just approving small businesses up to $750,000 in under 24 hours. He’s also just authored a new book, The Real Madrid Way: How Values Created the Most Successful Sports Team on the Planet.

Not a subject you expected from a tech-driven small business lender? Steven Mandis is not your average industry executive…

Prior to Kalamata, he worked at Goldman Sachs in the investment banking, private equity, and proprietary trading areas. He assisted Hank Paulson and other senior executives on special projects and was a portfolio manager in one of the largest and most successful proprietary trading areas at Goldman. After leaving Goldman, he cofounded a multibillion-dollar global alternative asset management firm that was a trading and investment banking client of Goldman’s.

During the financial crisis, Mandis was a senior adviser to McKinsey & Company before becoming chief of staff to the president and COO of Citigroup and serving on executive, management, and risk committees at the firm.

He’s also an adjunct professor at Columbia Business School, where he teaches classes of MBA and executive MBA students on strategic issues facing investment banks and the European financial crisis.

His first book, What Happened to Goldman Sachs? was widely acclaimed. “Several authors have tackled the question of how Goldman’s culture changed post-1999 but none so deftly as Steven G. Mandis, a banker-turned-sociologist,” wrote the Wall Street Journal. I also read it cover-to-cover myself back in March of 2015.

In Real Madrid, “Mandis is the first researcher to rigorously analyze both the on-the-field and business aspects of a sports team. What he learns is completely unexpected and challenges the conventional wisdom that moneyball-fueled data analytics are the primary instruments of success.”

Former NBA Commissioner David Stern said of the book, “With unprecedented behind-the-scenes access, this book is the most complete study of any sports team ever done–which leads to fascinating conclusions.”

The Real Madrid Way - Steven Mandis

Are you a finance buff? Sports buff? Perhaps both? You’ll want to read his new book.

You can buy it HERE

Yellowstone Capital and Green Capital Join Family of Companies Under New Brand, Fundry

October 1, 2015
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deBanked has confirmed that Yellowstone Capital has restructured through the formation of a new parent company, Fundry. Green Capital is also another subsidiary under the Fundry umbrella.

With Yellow and Green together, the business financing industry just got a little bit more colorful.

Yellowstone’s CEO Isaac Stern and President Jeff Reece have become Fundry’s CEO and President respectively.

Fundry Team
The Fundry Management Team

“We have a solid foundation and a very successful business model,” Stern said. “But to maintain a position of leadership in this industry, we need to grow and we are evolving.”

Yellowstone Capital has been the subject of several news stories lately, most recently by being approved for up to $3.3 million in tax credits to move their business from New York to New Jersey.

In April, it was revealed that Stern had led a management buyout backed by a private family office that made Stern the only remaining co-founder to retain an equity stake. And in June, the industry learned that the company had originated more than $1.1 billion in deal flow since inception, ranking them high above many of their more well-known peers.

The funding leaderboard which debuted in deBanked’s May/June magazine issue and was broadcast to attendees at the 2nd Annual AltLend conference in New York City, was in many ways a turning point for the industry.

“I would think there are many more branded funders that would have made the list but didn’t,” said Arty Bujan, Managing Member of Cardinal Equity. “Most shocking is Paypal’s $500 million.”

Richard Battista, Vice president of Business Development at theLendster commented on the eye-opening figures of the industry’s largest players in general. “This is a reflection of the explosive growth that the industry is experiencing at the present time,” Battista said. There is a huge demand for funding from small businesses, who have consistently expressed interest in trying out new funding options.”

Perhaps the story of Yellowstone Capital’s rise can best be explained by Grant McCracken’s Five Stages of Disruption Denial. McCracken, who is a Canadian anthropologist and author, known for his books about culture and commerce, explained the theory behind these five stages in the Harvard Business Review in April, 2013. They are Confusion, Repudiation, Shaming, Acceptance, and Forgetting.

Yellowstone Capital confused their competitors when they were first founded in 2009 by substituting split-processing payments for ACH to high-risk merchants. Very few people within the industry understood why they were using the ACH network over relationships with credit card processors that everyone else relied on.

That of course led to the repudiation stage where people thought they were crazy and that their model wouldn’t work and segued into shaming where the concept of providing working capital to high-risk businesses was perceived to be something that no one should do.

Through it all, Stern and his team believed many of America’s small businesses were still being overlooked and underserved despite non-bank financing and online lending growing by leaps and bounds.

“At what point do we stop helping small business?” Stern said to deBanked in response to an inquiry about whether or not some businesses are simply unfundable.

Today, we are in between the Acceptance and Forgetting stages. The ACH debit methodology has almost entirely replaced split-processing and dozens of funding providers claim to specialize in high-risk deals, the very same kind that the industry years ago didn’t understand and resisted.

Yellowstone Capital will serve as Fundry’s ISO relationship arm while Green Capital will serve merchants directly.

“2015 is our biggest year yet, but we really see it as a year of block and tackle work to set up for what needs to be done in 2016 and beyond,” said company president Jeff Reece.

“Yellowstone’s success will simply become the baseline for what Fundry is about to do.”

Who’s Got Swag?

January 10, 2023
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debankedmiami2019-bThere’s a rush of excitement at Broker Fair and deBanked Connect. Behind the scenes there is also a fun creative process that sponsors get to prepare for right before every event. SWAG! It can be challenging to think of anything other than pens and Post-its to jazz up one’s table with memorable tchotchkes so here is some unforgettable swag from over the years:

Broker Fair 2019 in the Roosevelt Hotel, as some might recall, had a live basketball hoop by Rapid Finance. LoanMe brought out squeezable stress relievers and what better way to relieve it than squeezing a money wad. Silver sponsor Cooper Asset had special bags that came in handy when collecting all that swag.

At deBanked Connect San Diego 2019, PIRS Capital gave out mouse pads, great for guests to use at work with a constant reminder of where they got it from. Bitty Advance had reusable water containers, smart to stay hydrated while bouncing from sessions to the sponsor showcase room. BFS Capital had a bowl of candy on their table and who doesn’t love a sweet treat after endless meet and greets.

At deBanked Connect Miami 2019, SOS Capital was looking out for everyone by having a bowl of mints out for grab. And if one can’t calculate large numbers without a calculator handy, RTR Recovery had guests covered with that.

After having a virtual Broker Fair in 2020, Lendini stepped it up a notch with a hand-rolled cigar station at the pre-show party in 2021. If one didn’t have a pen and notepad to take down information, Velocity Capital Group made sure to have plenty available. Velocity also had a mini massage station to loosen everyone up after a tense year in quarantine.

Although Covid took some time away from events, the deBanked Connect Miami 2022 sponsors were more ready than ever to show off their swag. FundFi played it safe with hand sanitizers and the LCF Group knew everyone would need a ChapStick throughout the event after talking all day. FinTap got creative with their very own Staples easy-button that said ‘funded.’ Legend Funding had mini piggy banks, ROC Funding Group had cigar cutters, and Lendini had flasks and raffled off a Gucci duffle bag.

Broker Fair 2022 swag was a blend of the practical with the innovative. THOR Capital had shot glasses and if one needed a coaster for that Lifetime Funding had your back. Now that everyone has moved on to wireless headphones, Dedicated Financial GBC brought back wired headphones, which are perfect for flying. Beyonce said it best, “I got hot sauce in my bag swag,” and everyone could too because IOU Financial had mini hot sauce bottles. Following the tradition of raffling their most-wanted Gucci duffle, Lendini also had mini tool kits and Magic 8 Balls that fortuned all good news surrounding the event.

At deBanked events, sponsors always come through with original swag ideas. With Miami 2023 right around the corner, we are excited to see what will be there this year.

When The Music Stopped: How The Pandemic Threatened the History and Culture of Austin, Texas

November 15, 2020
Article by:

Austin Music Scene

This story appeared in deBanked’s Sep/Oct 2020 magazine issue. To receive copies in print, SUBSCRIBE FREE

In April of this year, Threadgill’s – a legendary Austin music venue and beer joint that, in the 1960s, famously launched the career of blues singer Janis Joplin — turned off the lights and pulled the plug on its sound stage.


A converted gasoline station, Threadgill’s had been a rollicking music scene since 1933 when musician and bootlegger Kenneth Threadgill secured the first liquor license in Texas after Prohibition. His juke box was crammed with Jimmie Rodgers songs and Threadgill himself famously sang and yodeled Rodgers’ tunes.

AustinFor generations of students at the University of Texas, Threadgill’s was a rite of passage.

“The first time I went to Threadgill’s was in the fall of 1968, when I was a freshman at UT,” recalls Perry Raybuck, a songwriter-folksinger and retired government worker who, as a member of the Southwest Regional Folk Alliance, played the stage in 2018. “It was the beginning of an education for me,” he adds. “I had been a Beatles and rock n’ roll kid and it opened me up to different music styles. I became a convert.”

In 1981, Threadgill’s was taken over by another acclaimed club owner, Eddie Wilson, who previously had been the proprietor of the Armadillo, a fabled music venue. Wilson began to actually pay musicians – Threadgill had compensated them mainly with free cold beer – and installed a circular stage.


AustinIt was Threadgill’s and an assortment of funky clubs and stages with names like the Soap Creek Saloon and Liberty Lunch helped put Austin on the map as “The Live Music Capital of the World.” The city remains home to the widely acclaimed television program “Austin City Limits” on PBS and the internationally renowned South by Southwest festival, which was canceled this year amid fears of a “superspread” of the coronavirus.

“Live music,” says Laura Huffman, chief executive at the Austin Chamber of Commerce, “is why people come here. It is a central component of Austin’s cultural and economic life.”

Omar Lozano, director of music marketing for Visit Austin, the city’s main tourism organization, says: “We have close to 250 places in the greater Austin region where you can hear live-music, although it’s closer to 50-70 on any given night. During South by Southwest, no stone is left unturned — everything becomes a stage: parking garages, grocery stores, housing co-ops. There are also four or five stages at the Airport, which helps liven up the mood.”


But that identity is being put to the test. So far this year, Austin has lost a raft of live music venues. Among those joining Threadgill’s in honky-tonk heaven since the pandemic struck are Barracuda, Plush, Scratchhouse, Shady Grove, and Botticelli, all of which provided niche audiences to both established musicians and up-and-coming acts.

The roller-coaster ride of government mandated shutdowns followed by a limited re-opening in the spring and another shutdown since July fourth is making life miserable and untenable for both club owners and already hardpressed musicians and artists, says Marcia Ball, a piano player and blues singer.


Ball, who was named by the Texas Legislature as “2018 Texas State Musician” and whose musical style was once described by the Boston Globe as “mixing Louisiana swamp rock and smoldering Texas blues,” told deBanked: “There was already a limited amount of opportunity for musicians to perform and monetize their work in Austin, so it has always been necessary to travel to make a living. But we still depend on a thriving local scene, and we’re losing that when key venues like Threadgill’s disappear.”

Adds Graham Williams, a prominent Texas promoter of touring bands: “These venues and bars are vital to the music ecosystem. Local bands and cover bands need hangouts, even if people are not buying tickets. They’re places to play every night of week.”

🎵 🎵 🎵

While unheralded outside the Austin scene, the local music joints were often a port-of-call for out-of-town promoters and nightclub owners checking out Austin talent – “most notably Barracuda (which) had super-popular acts and was like a hipster garage venue,” says promoter Williams. “A lot of touring bands played there on their way up.”

A July study by the Hobby School of Public Affairs at the University of Houston found that the city’s live music industry is in desperate straits. Sixty-two percent of live music spots and 55% of the bar-and-restaurant businesses reported to researchers that that they can endure for no more than four months, making them the most vulnerable of 16 industries surveyed.

And the situation has become “even more ominous” since the report was published, explains Mark P. Jones, a political scientist at Rice University in Houston and a lead researcher on the Hobby study. “That survey finished polling two hours before all bars and restaurants closed back down,” he says. “Everything people were saying was when bars were at 50% capacity. That’s a best-case scenario.”

AustinAustin’s experience amid the Covid-19 pandemic mirrors what is occurring nationwide as bars, nightclubs and music halls in myriad cities and towns experience similar trauma. In Seattle, Steven Severin is co-owner of three nightclubs – Neumos, Barboza and recently opened Life on Mars – all in trendy Capitol Hill, the hub of the city’s club and live-music scene. He reports that he is barely holding on thanks to some help from the city and a sympathetic landlord who is “a big music advocate.”

“He knocked down the rent a little bit,” Severin says of his landlord, but the situation is dire. “We just had a fifth venue, Re bar, close at the end of August,” he says. “It was a punch in the gut. This could be me.”

The Bitter End in Greenwich Village is also keeping its head above water despite not opening its doors since March. The nightclub has a storied past: owner Paul Rizzo recounts that it is where pop singer Neil Diamond got his start and where “everyone from Curtis Mayfield to Randy Newman” has performed since its opening in 1961. But the club is silent now since the pandemic overwhelmed the city’s hospitals and made New York the epicenter of sickness and suffering during the spring. So far the club is getting help from a landlord’s forbearance and loyal musicians.

Peter Yarrow (the “Peter” in the bygone trio Peter, Paul and Mary), donated a streamed concert to patrons who contributed to a fundraiser that raised more than $50,000. And grateful local musicians also put on a benefit directing people to a Go Fund Me page on the Internet that raised another $16,000. “We’re a major venue for local musicians,” Rizzo says. “We should pull through.”


It’s in their self-interest for artists to do whatever they can to keep the doors open at a club like The Bitter End. “These days because of the last two decades of declining record sales — live music is the bread and butter of a musician’s income,” says journalist Edna Gundersen, a recently retired, 28-year-veteran of USA Today. “That’s true whether it’s a local entertainer or an international superstar.” (Gundersen earned the reputation as Bob Dylan’s favorite journalist; it was she who scored his only interview after he won the Nobel Prize for literature in 2018, publishing his eccentric musings in the The Telegraph of London and breaking the news that he would indeed accept the prize.)

“Touring has been crushed,” Gundersen adds, “and festivals have been canceled. So people doing the circuit and clubs are gone for all intents and purposes. Streaming — while initially up — is down because people aren’t listening to music in the gym or in their cars. Physical record sales are also down because people aren’t going to stores. All of this is just killing musicians.”

PPEThe Paycheck Protection Program, the multi-billion, multi-tranche aid package for small business which Congress authorized as part of the CARES Act in March, has provided some funding for the live-music and entertainment industry. But because of the PPP’s requirements that only 40% of the funds can be spent on rent, mortgage and utilities, which are major expenses for nightclubs and music venues, the program has largely been a disappointment.

Hoping to win attention and assistance for their plight from the federal government — “We’re the first to close and the last to reopen,” Severin says — live-music entrepreneurs like himself and Rizzo and more than 2,800 club-owners and promoters across the country have banded together to form the National Independent Venue Association.

Their membership includes independent proprietors (no corporate members allowed) of saloons, cabarets and concert halls as well as theaters, opera houses and auditoriums from every state plus the District of Columbia. To help plead their case with Congress, the organization hired powerhouse law firm Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, the largest Washington, D.C. lobbying firm by revenue.

NIVA also blanketed Congressional offices with two million letters, e mails and correspondence generated from hordes of fans and performers. Among the many scriveners are a slew of boldface names: Mavis Staples, Lady Gaga, Willie Nelson, Billy Joel, Earth Wind & Fire, and Leon Bridges. Comedians Jerry Seinfeld, Jay Leno and Jeff Foxworthy have also penned notes to lawmakers championing NIVA’s cause.


Their message: without federal funding, 90% of independent stages will go under over the next few months. “The heartbreak of watching venues close is that once a building is boarded up, it’s not going to be a music venue any more,” warns Audrey Fix Schaefer, communications director at NIVA. “They operate on thin business margins to begin with and they’re too hard to develop.” For touring acts, each city stage is “an integral part of the music ecosystem,” Schaefer explains. “When artists finally do get back on the tour bus, they might have to skip the next five cities and go on to the sixth.”

Capitol BuildingThanks to the bi-partisan efforts of Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Senator John Cornyn (R-Texas), NIVA’s campaign has gotten traction. The unlikely couple have teamed up to author a rescue bill, known as the Save Our Stages Act. If enacted, it would establish a $10 billion grant program for live venue operators, promoters, producers, and talent representatives.

The legislation would provide grants up to $12 million for live entertainment venues to defray most business expenses incurred since March, including payroll and employees’ health insurance, rent, utilities, mortgage, personal protection equipment, and payments to independent contractors.

NIVA’s chief argument for the legislation is coldly economic rather than sentimentally cultural. The organization cites a 2008 study by the University of Chicago that spending by music patrons produces a “multiplier effect” for the broader economy. For every dollar spent by a concert-goer at a live performance, the Chicago study determined, $12 in downstream economic activity occurs.

Explains Scott Plusquellec, nightlife business advocate for the City of Seattle: “You buy a ticket to a show and the direct economic impact of that purchase is that it pays the artist, bartender and the club itself as well as the band, advertisers, and promoters. The indirect economic impact,” he adds, “is that after you bought the ticket, you went to a barber shop or a hair salon to look good that night. You might also have dinner, go to a bar for a drink and tip the bartender. That’s the whole the idea of a ‘multiplier.’”


In Austin, that economic logic is an article of faith with city burghers, asserts Lozano of Visit Austin, who reports that live music in the capital city is roughly a $2 billion industry. To promote live music, the tourism bureau sponsors such endeavors as “Hire an Austin Musician.” That program, Lozano says, “sends musicians around the U.S. to represent us during marketing season.” In another promotional campaign, Visit Austin arranged for singer-songwriter Julian Acosta to play a gig at travel agents’ offices in London when Norwegian Air inaugurated direct flights between London and Austin in 2018. “The U.K. is one of our best markets,” he reports.

Even so, efforts by the business community and the City of Austin have failed to stanch much of the industry’s bleeding. According to its website, the city has disbursed $23.7 million in loans and grants to small businesses and individuals, but slightly less than $1 million of that has gone to live-music and performance venues, entertainment and nightlife, and live-music production and studios.

Austin, TXIn late September, The city of Austin’s Economic Development Department released a slide show breaking down how the $981,842 in industry grants and loans – of which $484,776 was provided by the federal government under the CARES Act – were awarded. Most top recipients appeared to be well known nightclubs and entertainment venues downtown or close to the city’s inner core.

The Continental Club on South Congress – a key fixture in the hip “SoCo” strip just over the Colorado River from downtown – appeared to do best. It picked up $79,919 from two programs: $40,000 in the CARES-backed small business grants program, and $34,919 from the city’s Creative Space Disaster Relief Program. Other clubs receiving $40,000 in the small business grants program included Stubbs, The Belmont, Cheer Up Charlies and the White Horse. (For a full list go to:

Joe Ables, owner of the Saxon Pub, a major Austin venue for jazz – blues singer Ball hailed it as one of several important Austin clubs “that sustains creative endeavor, especially for songwriters” – was vexed that his grant application was denied by the city “with no explanation.” Ables also voiced dissatisfaction that the city paid the Better Business Bureau a 5% administration fee to handle $1.14 million in relief funds, including determining which applicants were approved. “What would they know about live music,” he says.

Even for clubs that received city largesse, it hasn’t been nearly enough to sustain them. The North Door, which got $15,240, closed for good on September 11 (an ominous day — the anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.)

Meanwhile, enough clubs and venues were left out in the cold that club owner Stephen Sternschein could tell deBanked just before the slide show was released: “I’ve heard talk of a $21 million grant program but most people I know haven’t seen a dollar of that.”


Sternschein is managing partner of Heard Presents, an independent promoter and operator of a triad of downtown clubs that includes the spacious Empire Garage, which features hip hop and urban jazz, and has space for 1000 music-goers. A member of NIVA, Sternschein describes efforts by both the state and local governments as “woefully inadequate.” Says he: “People are looking to the federal government for answers.”

texasThe diminution of places for musicians to ply their trade is a double edged sword. If Austin loses its luster as a hot music town, it puts the city’s overall economy in jeopardy. Explains Jones, the Rice political scientist: “The difficulty for Austin is that it could lose its comparative advantage. Unlike restaurants, movie theaters or sports events, which people can find just as easily in other cities, the Austin music scene draws capital and revenue from across the country.

“You can go out to dinner in Waco,” he observes, referring to the mid sized Texas city between Austin and Dallas best known as home to Baylor University and its “Bears” football team, fervent Baptist religiosity, and unremarkable night life. “Music brings in revenue to Austin and to Texas that wouldn’t otherwise come here.”

In addition, Jones says, the large presence of “artists, creative types, and freelancers” helps make Austin a strong selling point for “brain industries” to attract talent from the East and West Coasts. “It supports the technology industry by making it easier to recruit employees to live there,” he says. “Austin is an alternative to Silicon Valley. People who are progressive might be hesitant to come to conservative, red-state Texas from California but they’ll come to Austin because it’s culturally cool.”


Austin, which embraces the slogan “Keep Austin Weird,” is on the verge of becoming just like every place else in Texas. Should it relinquish its flavor and charm, it could discourage many of the assorted business groups and professionals from keeping Austin on their dance card as a popular destination for meetings, conferences and get-away trips.

Howard Freidman, managing director at Bluechip Jets, a broker of private luxury aircraft, had an earlier career as a technology industry executive. Partly drawn by his previous experiences with the city, Freidman moved to Austin earlier this year. “It had the same coolness and weirdness of New Orleans — but also with the professionalism of a tech city,” he says.

MUSIC“Whenever we’d come here,” Freidman adds, “the music was always integral to the Austin scene. Even when you’d go to private parties you’d end up downtown at the club scene on Sixth Street. Austin was always a place everybody liked going to.”But as Austin has steadily been morphing into more of a high-technology center than a live-music town, it’s experiencing a silent exodus of musicians and artists who are being gentrified out of their apartments and Craftsman duplexes. Displacing them are software engineers, website designers and the like, their sleek BMWs and black, tinted-glass SUVs glistening in the parking lots of steel-and-glass corporate centers.

Many of the technology firms – including such needy companies as Samsung, Intel, Rackspace, Facebook, and Apple – have each received tax breaks, grants and subsidies worth tens of millions of dollars from a variety of local jurisdictions. Not only have the city of Austin and Travis Country been beneficent, but adjacent county governments and the state of Texas have provided abundant support. A 2014 study by the Workers Defense Project, in collaboration with UT’s Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs, reported that the state of Texas showers big business with $1.9 billion annually in state benefits. Most recently, officials with Travis County and a local school district granted Tesla more than $60 million in tax rebates to build a massive “gigafactory” southeast of town near Austin-Bergstrom International Airport.

To house the burgeoning cohort of “knowledge workers,” there are condominium conversions, tear-downs, high-rises and other forms of frenetic real estate development which, in their train, bring higher property taxes, steeper rents, and unaffordable housing.

austin cityAdd in some of the country’s most snarled traffic, dirtier air, and a growing homeless population, and members of the artistic community are increasingly decamping for smaller satellite towns like Lockhart and San Marcos. Others in the diaspora are abandoning Texas altogether for more hospitable locales like Fayetteville Ark., Asheville, N.C., or Olympia, Wash. “Whatever made anybody think this would be a better town with a million people,” laments blues singer Ball. “This was a perfect town with 350,000. Now we’ve got Silicon Hills, Barton Springs are cloudy, and drinking water’s going to be scarce. Why is this supposed to be better?”

The drop-off in live music and the belt-tightening by musicians is causing third-party pain for people like veteran Austin journalist and publicist Lynne Margolis, whose national credits include stories for Rolling Stone online, and radio spots for NPR. “The public relations aspect of my work has dropped away because artists can’t afford to pay,” she says, “and music journalism is falling by the wayside. It’s hard not to feel to like a double dinosaur.”

Led by bars, restaurants and music venues, on many days the solemn departure of small establishments has the business news sections of Austin newspapers reading more like the obituary page. One hardy survivor is Giddy Ups – a throwback honky-tonk on the town’s outskirts that advertises itself as “the biggest little stage in Austin” – promising “just about everything,” says owner Nancy Morgan, including “country, blues, rock, bluegrass, and soul.” For the past 20 years Giddy Ups has developed a devoted following of musicians and patrons while fending off hyper modernity.

“It has an untouched, back-to-the-seventies, cosmic cowboy vibe,” says local musician Ethan Ford, a guitarist and bass player whose trio, The Slyfoot Family, has graced its stage. “It’s a time capsule,” Ford adds.

Morgan declined to disclose her annual receipts but in 2019, she reports paying out $188,000 in wages to employees, $72,000 to musicians, and $185,000 in combined sales taxes to the city of Austin and to the state. Despite her status as a taxpayer, employer and entrepreneur, she has received no state aid and is disqualified from receiving city pandemic assistance programs, meager as they may be, because she’s located in an extra-territorial jurisdiction.“

Nancy still bartends most nights and does all of the booking,” says Ford. “Her knowledge of the Austin music scene could fill a couple of books. I know a decent fistful of Austin venue owners and she’s about the only one that hasn’t given up, been forced out, or just retired. She’s a dynamo.”

Unless the cavalry arrives for Morgan and other holdouts, though, their musical days may be numbered.


Editors Note: Threadgill’s didn’t make it. The venue “has closed for good, the property has sold, and the building will eventually be torn down,” according to information disseminated for its Last Call Music Series. Its November 1st grand finale show featured Gary P. Nunn, Dale Watson, Whitney Rose, William Beckman, and Jamie Lin Wilson.

The building will be replaced with apartments.

What Stimulus is Next for SMBs?

September 4, 2020
Article by:

Downtown Annapolis MarylandNext week, lawmakers will finally be back from vacation, arguing over the next stimulus package. There are various proposals, and the two competing Republican and Democrat offerings are nearly a trillion dollars apart.

It’s the Senate GOP HEALs act vs. the House Democrats HEROs act. But in between, what may be getting the most support? Standalone bipartisan bills that focus on extending and forgiving PPP loans.

Ryan Metcalf, head of the office of Government affairs and Social Impact for Funding Circle, has been following conversations on The Hill closely. 

“Up until Monday, Pelosi said they weren’t even going to even put a bill forward for a new stimulus,” Metcalf said. “But then yesterday [Tuesday] Secretary Mnuchin said he was open to doing a standalone PPP loan. It’s the one that has the most bipartisan support; they can’t meet anywhere else than PPP.”

Funding Circle is one of the world’s largest online lenders, with about $10 billion in global loans to date. Metcalf said Funding Circle mostly offers US loans in the $25,000 to $500,000 range, and as a funder for PPP, offered more loans in just eight days in August than half of their total business in July. His company had to cut off funding requests, locking out some customers that needed help, simply because the deadline had ended.

“When PPP ended on August 8th, the narrative was that PPP had died out, and there was no interest in it, but that is a complete fallacy,” Metcalf said. “We were processing loans for the smallest of small businesses- 10-15 employees- well under $50,000 loans, the people still needed help.”




Steve Denis, Executive Director of the Small Business Finance Associaton (SBFA), has also been engaged in the process. He has been petitioning members of Congress on behalf of what he calls truly small business, those under 10 employees or nonemployers that still need help.

“‘Real’ small businesses: ones with under ten employees that are really grinding, like small hair salons, retail stores, and mechanics don’t really have traditional banking relationships,” Denis said.

SBA data from July found that most of the loans made (66.8%) were in the $50k range and to very small businesses, but the largest amount of capital went towards firms that applied for a $350k-$1M sized loan.

Denis said that the higher dollar amount PPP loans were more profitable for banks to make, so disproportionate funding went toward bigger businesses with pre-established finance connections. This disparity is backed up by research. Studies, like one from the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), found that firms with stronger connections to banks were more likely to be approved for PPP funds.

“The way fees are structured: there’s an incentive for big banks to prioritize bigger deals at [commission] rates like 3% or 5%,” Denis Said. “They’d rather make that on a $500,000 deal than on a $40,000 deal.”

Denis said the SBFA was lobbying for Congress to create a prioritized amount of money authorized only for smaller loans, under $100,000-$150,000, to focus on those really small businesses with less than five employees.




Like Metcalf, Denis sees the most likely outcome is an extension of PPP- at least until the end of the federal fiscal year budget in September. If the Fed cannot agree on a budget, the government will go into shutdown- and this year would be the worst time to shut down.

“The only thing that motivates Congress to move big legislation like this are deadlines; there’s a big deadline coming up,” Denis said. “At the end of September, the fiscal year runs out and there needs to be a budget agreement.”

SBA LoansMetcalf said that the next round of PPP programs need to make sure businesses can get their first loan if they haven’t already, and streamline the loan forgiveness process to keep the SBA from getting overwhelmed.

“We need a forgiveness bill that streamlines the process; lenders will not have the resources to process forgiveness, a first PPP and second PPP as it is,” Metcalf said. “In my call with the SBA two weeks ago, they said for processing new 7(a) lender applications and all the other business they do to resume their normal business we’re looking at six months.”

The PPP proposal that Metcalf likes the best is called the Paycheck Protection Small Business Forgiveness Act, which stipulates a one-page forgiveness form for all loans made under $150,000. Metcalf said he saw support from a bipartisan group of over 90 members of Congress.

Another opportunity is the Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) program- offering long term loans to businesses with less than 500 employees that need financial help. Both Denis and Metcalf encouraged business owners to check out the program, which offers loans directly from the government without the need to prove forgiveness.

In the end, Denis said he was interested in the Republican “Skinny Bill” that is a cheaper breakdown of the GOP HEALS Act, but he said it is all up in the air.

“This is just me guessing,” Denis said. “I have talked to these people every day, but even members of Congress on Capitol Hill have no clue what’s going to happen.”

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