Chadron, Nebraska – Two Nebraska entrepreneurs are utilizing the expertise of the Nebraska Business Development Center (NBDC) to help obtain federal, state, and local funding to make their unique digital lending platform a reality for next-generation agriculture producers, bankers, and educators.
agCredit Consulting, LLC was co-founded in 2018 by Steve Cleveland and Emily Rischling-Huffman. Based in Chadron, Cleveland is a 36-year veteran of community banking, while Rischling-Huffman is a bank marketing coordinator. Together, they are developing a Software as a Solution (SaaS) digital agriculture lending application to benefit next-generation producers and bankers in Frontier and Remote (FAR) regions across the country.
They say the agCredit product is the first customer-facing agricultural lending mobile application in the marketplace. “It’s a lead generator,” Cleveland says. “It asks old questions in a new automated way.”
agCredit automates the front-end of the loan application process. The agCredit 1.0 minimum viable product (MVP) allows an agricultural producer to open a user account and apply for a loan in less than 10 minutes. Its EasyLoan scorecard gathers basic information that channels loan underwriting for its community bank lender. Once pre-screened, the applicant will be connected with a community bank agricultural specialist lender. Four rural-based banks are currently participating in beta testing.
“The app helps ag producers obtain the loans they need, and also helps rural banks expand their market reach,” Rischling-Huffman says.
Work with the NBDC began in August 2018 when Cleveland and Rischling-Huffman met with the NBDC team in Chadron. Administrator Gary Dusek, Consultant Spencer Rien and Office Assistant Jennifer Wittrock identified potential funding sources, gathered market research, worked through an initial business plan, and made connections to other providers in the innovation ecosystem.
The NBDC Chadron office connected Cleveland and Rischling-Huffman with NBDC’s Innovation and Technology Commercialization Team for further assistance with a Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) application, and to the Nebraska Department of Economic Development (DED) in pursuit of a DED Phase 0 grant.
The Phase 0 grant was awarded for $5,000 and agCredit Consulting hired a grant writer. The NBDC team helped review the Phase I proposal. Although the 2018 SBIR submission was not accepted, Cleveland and Rischling-Huffman’s 2019 proposal re-submission was accepted.
Phase I was awarded for $100,000 and the DED provided matching funds for $65,000. Cleveland and Rischling-Huffman also received funding from Chadron Foundation for $15,000. After receipt of the Phase I award, agCredit Consulting hired Spencer Morris as its software engineer. The NBDC team continued to provide post-award management guidance and connections to help manage the Phase I grant and prepare to submit for Phase II.
A Phase II award for $650,000 was received and development will continue through August of 2023. agCredit Consulting also obtained a matching grant from the DED for $100,000.
Cleveland and Rischling-Huffman say the services provided by the NBDC have been instrumental in moving their innovative product forward. “As a banker, I’ve known the NBDC to be a resource in our community for a long time,” Cleveland says. “Now, instead of sending our banking clients to them, we’ve come to rely upon their knowledge to help us.”
The Nebraska Business Development Center (NBDC) helps Nebraska businesses start, grow and develop, by strengthening Nebraska businesses for a healthy economy and prosperous communities. NBDC is a University of Nebraska at Omaha center that provides confidential consulting business development services across Nebraska to entrepreneurs and business owners for the life cycle of their business. NBDC partners with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, University of Nebraska at Kearney, University of Nebraska Medical Center, Wayne State College, and Chadron State College to deliver its services statewide. The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), the U.S. Defense Logistics Agency (DLA), the U.S. Department of Commerce (EDA), and other federal, state and private organizations support NBDC. Visit nbdc.unomaha.edu for more information.
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