Local restaurant chain inspires NYC startup

A local restaurant chain has inspired the birth of a startup that helps businesses secure loans.

In 2014, entrepreneur Jared Hecht founded Fundera, an online marketplace for small business loans. But the inspiration for the new company came from a business right here in the Miami Valley.

When Dayton native and co-founder Zach Weprin started sushi restaurant chain Fusian, he didn’t know how difficult it would be to secure a loan from the bank to continue the growth of his business.

Weprin’s cousin, also a Dayton native, is married to Hecht. Weprin discussed the difficulty with Hecht, who is an entrepreneur in New York City. Weprin said some of the only options he could find, through venture capitalists, would require selling equity in the business in order to grow it.

“So I would’ve had to give up control or ownership, and I was not willing,” Weprin said.

Hecht offered to help by searching for financial options online. Weprin and Hecht found a string of lenders and loan options, and little clarity as they tried to decipher what financial opportunity would work best.

Hecht said they scoured the Internet, only to find remarkably high interest rates and predatory lending traps.

“It was not easy whatsoever,” Hecht said.

Hecht knew he wanted to start another business and was waiting for the right idea to come along. After college, he worked for Tumblr for about a year an a half until he left to start his first business, GroupMe. The group text messaging service was acquired by Skype for around $85 million.

If Fusian — a highly popular restaurant chain with locations in Columbus, Cincinnati and Dayton — was struggling this much to find capital for expansion, how bad was it for other small businesses out there? That was the question that drove Hecht to create Fundera.

Fusian’s experience was not the anomaly. A survey from OnDeck showed that out of 10,000 business loan applicants nationwide across 700 different industries, about 64 percent were unable to secure any type of financing. Approximately 84 percent were denied for financing by their bank.

Fundera allows small business owners to fill out one common application — it allows them to find out what loans they qualify for and compare offers from a network of lenders. The concept is quite similar to Kayak.com for flight comparison.

The startup helps business owners navigate the “complicated and opaque process of finding a small business loan.” Small business lending is challenging because there is a larger number of products than regular consumer loans, according to Fundera.

The online marketplace has helped 4,000 small business owners secure almost $200 million in funding. In Ohio alone, Fundera has helped more than 50 small businesses secure more than $4 million.

Hecht said most business owners in the U.S. want to own 100 percent of their company. Fundera wants to give businesses, just like Fusian, the opportunity to know what their options are — and to grow in a way aligned with their model and mission.

“What we decided to do was actually build a company that would build a service for small business owners that would empower them to shop for small business credit in the same way they would shop for anything else using the Internet,” he said.

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