Cofounder, Honeycomb Credit
We came up with the idea of letting local people in the community be the community bankers of the 21st century. At that point, it was just an idea.
BY ALINA DIZIK
For George Cook T’17 growing up in the family community banking business was not just a way of life, it gave him an inside look at the problems he wanted to solve as an entrepreneur. With community banks and small business lending disappearing, the sixth-generation community banker saw the need to widen access to critical funding for small businesses. The solution, he thought, needed to uplift communities that had fallen prey to disinvestment and unethical lending practices.
But it wasn’t until a canceled flight and a car ride from New York back to Hanover with Ken Martin T’17 that he decided to put it into practice.
We came up with the idea of letting local people in the community be the community bankers of the 21st century, he recalls.
At that point, it was just an idea.
Honeycomb Credit officially launched in 2017 with Cook and Martin as cofounders. The loan crowdfunding platform works specifically with small businesses and allows consumers, nonprofits, and other organizations to loan small amounts of cash to a particular venture. Business owners launch campaigns on the platform, and consumers can lend as little as $100 for each campaign while expecting interest on the 60-month loans that hover around 10 percent.
From there, the first-years completed an independent study course, did market research, and built a business plan with the help of their entrepreneurship courses. They also ran a pilot campaign with small investments from classmates. That year, a friends-and-family round received investment from Tuck professor Ron Adner.
Today there’s more than $14 million invested across their platform, funding businesses in cities including Pittsburgh, Chicago, and Detroit. Companies on the platform go through Honeycomb’s due diligence process to make sure the business meets requirements. Roughly 80 percent of the business owners are either women or minorities and are often based in low-income areas, Cook adds. While these are loans not donations, the startup creates buzz in a similar way to crowdfunding startups and encourages consumers to lend across the platform. The average investment is about $1,000.
We’re not dissimilar from IndieGoGo or Kickstarter, except instead of a donation you can earn a competitive return while supporting a project that is important to you, he says.
Many of the small businesses are consumer-facing with a brick-and-mortar component, including restaurants, caterers, shops, gyms, and other local services. Each small business owner needs to explain exactly how they will use the raised funds to better the venture, which further increases the trust of a lender.
These are truly main street small businesses, Cook says.
They’re going to understand where their investment is going, and make an impact.
This story originally appeared in print in the winter 2023 issue of Tuck Today magazine. Read the full article “Meet the Next Generation of Tuck Founders.”
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