Sunday, August 12, 2001

Lightning Financial connects entrepreneurs to lender

Startup helps bright ideas get on track

By Jenny Callison
Enquirer contributor

        A new venture can't make it past the planning stage without financing, but many entrepreneurs find it hard to qualify for a bank loan to convert plans into action.

        That's where Connie B. Doherty comes in. In May, Ms. Doherty left a career in e-business development to start Lightning Financial Services, an entrepreneur-friendly firm that offers nontraditional financing options. As she nurtures her company, Ms. Doherty is informing business folks throughout the Tristate about the alternatives to conventional sources of money.

        “A lot of small to midsize business owners don't know there's anywhere else to go besides the bank,” she said. “My job is to educate people about other options.”

[photo] Connie Doherty, who started Lightning Financial Services, has a network of more than 500 lenders.
(Michael Snyder photo)
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        As a certified business finance consultant, Ms. Doherty acts as a loan broker, matching businesses with just the right lender. She has access to more than 500 lenders that belong to a national network.

        “Our lenders are flexible, aggressive and competitive, often funding loans banks cannot approve,” she said.

        Said John Melvin, director of the Small Business Development Center for the Clermont County Chamber of Commerce: “What alternative brokers like Connie can provide is actual sources where people can go for money.

        “These people may have a lack of collateral or lack of equity. They may even have credit problems. They can't meet the requirements for a traditional loan but have something that nontraditional lenders can use to provide them with funding to get them through a storm or over a hurdle.”

    Currently, Lightning Financial Services works with a variety of business owners, located in the Tristate and beyond. A few financing options:
    • Commercial real estate loans: Connie B. Doherty said that the lenders she represents will consider making loans for both owner-occupied and non-owner-occupied buildings.
    “A lot of banks are backing away from loans on non-owner-occupied real estate,” she said.
    • Asset-based business loans.
    • Accounts-receivable financing: “This is the fastest way to inject cash into your business,” Ms. Doherty said. “This financing option allows the business to streamline its collection process, and it also reduces overall debt, creating a stronger cash position.”
    • Equipment leasing: By leasing rather than buying new equipment, a business owner retains greater borrowing power for growth and expansion. It's especially helpful for acquiring high-tech, soon-obsolete equipment.
    Lightning Financial Services is at 891-6499 or
        Ms. Doherty and Mr. Melvin point out alternative loan brokers aren't in competition with traditional lenders.

        “They complement each other,” Mr. Melvin said. “These nontraditional sources aren't new, but they're becoming more visible because traditional sources of financing, like banks, are tightening up their requirements. Connie and others like her are responding to the demand in the marketplace.”

        Although alternative lending organizations aren't new, brokers with a large portfolio of these options are an emerging breed. Ms. Doherty discovered this specialty only recently while she searched the Internet for opportunities in mortgage brokering.

        She had flirted with the idea of becoming a mortgage broker or even a stockbroker after completing a master's of business administration in finance degree at Xavier University in 1986, but the time wasn't right. Instead, Ms. Doherty used those financial skills to advance in the health-care field, which she had entered in 1979 as an occupational therapist.

        She spent 15 years at Bethesda Tri-Health, developing, then managing, programs before becoming the managed-care organization's chief operating officer in 1991.

        After leaving Tri-Health in 1996, Ms. Doherty started an Internet program that provided consumers' health records to them. When her venture was acquired by an Internet health-care technology company in 1999, she stayed on to integrate her product into the new owner's portfolio but declined that company's invitation of a permanent job, which would have required a move to Portland, Ore.

        “I started to look for alternatives, but the health-care and tech markets were not too strong. I got nibbles but no offers,” she said.

        That's when Ms. Doherty decided to go solo, building on her MBA and her years of experience in health-care management. The idea of helping other entrepreneurs through identifying financing appealed to her. So she hooked up with the Los Angeles company, completed its training program to achieve her designation as a certified business finance consultant and found some shared office space in Montgomery.

        “The company I'm affiliated with in Los Angeles is a Dun & Bradstreet company,” she said. “Because of their lender relationships and because they have affiliates around the country, they can get loans at a wholesale rate.”

        That rate advantage, plus Ms. Doherty's financial expertise, makes her valuable to a business looking for cash. Not only can she offer advice on which lenders to approach, she can help an entrepreneur identify assets and package loan applications. And her services are free to loan-seekers.

        “I get my money from the lender,” Ms. Doherty said. “The lender saves money by not having to pay rent in lots of locations or not having to hire a sales force or advertise.”

        Said Mr. Melvin: “Other people offer some of the same services Connie does, but she seems to have more arrows in her quiver.”


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