Client: Westmoreland Academy
SBDC: Small Business Development Center Hosted by Pacific Coast Regional Corp.
As founder and president of the Institute for the Redesign of Learning (IRL), Dr. Nancy Lavelle has 30 years of experience creating programs and services to help special-needs children reach their full potential. But when Lavelle decided to launch a K-12 school for children with autism, she needed some extra help herself. After several years of searching, she finally found the ideal location, but needed financing to purchase the building—so in late 2011 she turned to Pacific Coast Regional Corp.
SBDC Business Advisor Nestor Correa helped Lavelle and IRL Treasurer Richard Dotts set up a corporate structure for their new company, develop a budget and financial projections, obtain an SBA guaranteed loan and market the school.
- Make it legal. IRL is a nonprofit organization, but in order to get an SBA loan for the new school, Lavelle and Dotts needed to form a separate, for-profit corporation. Correa helped them form a flexible purpose corporation, “a fairly new type of entity in the U.S.,” Lavelle explains. “We had to learn how it operates and work through issues such as board governance, how we would handle donations and what our relationship to the [IRL] would be.”
- Add it up. In order for PCR to provide a State Loan Guarantee, Lavelle and Dotts had to create a budget and develop financial projections. “Nestor was able to ask very astute questions and address the issues PCR’s board felt were important,” Lavelle says.
- When time is of the essence, get expert help. “We were concerned we wouldn’t get funding in time to close escrow,” Lavelle recalls. “Nestor was able to guide us through the process, and [PCR] moved very quickly to tell us whether they could support our [loan request].”
- Market smart. “Nestor helped us see the importance of reaching out to the community,” says Lavelle, who uses social media to promote the school to parents of children with autism.
PCR provided an 80 percent State Loan Guarantee to the bank, and in January 2013, Westmoreland Academy opened its doors. Today, the school has 45 employees and 75 K-12 students from greater Los Angeles County. Enrollment is close to capacity, and revenues are approaching $1.5 million.
Future plans include building relationships with universities in order to promote knowledge of best practices for working with children with autism and provide professional training for educators. As Westmoreland Academy grows, Lavelle and Dott will continue turning to the SBDC as a valued resource.
“The nice thing about Nestor is this is a long-term relationship,” says Lavelle. “It’s not just the loan guarantee, which we couldn’t have moved forward without, but a personal interest in our mission that is greatly appreciated.”