With encouragement from famed Florida attorney Willie Gary, Gainesville attorney Christopher Chestnut set up his own firm at age 26. From the start, one of his biggest challenges was access to capital. “I was a tremendous risk at 26,” says Chestnut, adding, “My credit wasn’t bad, but it was limited.”
Still, Chestnut, who clerked with Gary’s firm as well as John Morgan’s Morgan & Morgan while he attended law school at the University of Florida, built the firm using bank lines of credit. He added three additional attorneys and 10 staff assistants.
In 2008, looking for working capital to fund further expansion, Chestnut ran into a roadblock at banks. “I found a significant barrier,” he says. He turned to the Access Florida Finance Corporation. Access Florida uses state capitalization funding and income from lending fees to provide both loan guarantees and a limited amount of direct loans to black-owned businesses, particularly in smaller communities around Florida.
Chestnut applied for about $50,000 in October 2008 and received the loan later that fall. “It’s just like going to the bank,” says Access Florida President Mark Scovera, who adds that a lot of banks don’t want to deal with small loans of $50,000 or less, so that is Access Florida’s focus. Chestnut plans to use the funding for equipment and additional staff.
Today, The Chestnut Firm has three locations in Florida and now employs 14 staff. The Chestnut Firm and Access Florida Finance Corporation were the subject of a Florida Trend article on March 2, 2009, which much of this article was derived.