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Austin nonprofit raising money for entrepreneurs struggling amid coronavirus pandemic

The Austin nonprofit JUST focuses on providing loans to low-income, mostly female, minority entrepreneurs.

AUSTIN, Texas — The Austin nonprofit JUST is starting an emergency fund to help entrepreneurs that have been hit hard by coronavirus (COVID-19).

But not just anyone can apply.

The fund is for entrepreneurs like Jessica Benavides, a makeup artist who has her own beauty school, Jessica Benavides Agency and Academy, located off Cameron Road in northeast Austin.

"I have this place for them to start practicing on their makeup," she said.

Benavides said her makeup studio isn't usually empty.

"Today it would have been a full house," she said.

Normally, she would be teaching students. But that changed last week.

"I had a few send me messages ... 'So, I'm going to have to cancel,'" she said.

Coronavirus concerns wiped out all her reservations. At $2,500 a student, she took a hit.

The small business she built from scratch is now in jeopardy.

"It's going to be hard," Benavides said.


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With no money coming in and the City's shelter-in-place order taking effect, Benavides turned to the nonprofit that helped her start her business four years ago.  

Steve Wanta is the CEO of JUST, a nonprofit he started in 2016.

"When COVID-19 happened, we sprung into action knowing there was going to be a massive economic impact on the cleaning woman that can't work from the comfort of her home," he said.

Wanta said his organization focuses on low-income, mostly female, minority entrepreneurs. He started JUST because he said 96% of bank loans go to men.


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"Investing in women has this ripple effect on their families, on their communities. Although we loan money, we're about [the] transformation of [the] community, first and foremost," he said.

JUST is now raising money for the emergency COVID-19 relief fund, hoping to give this community $1,000 no-interest loans as soon as possible so entrepreneurs like Benavides can get back on their feet.

To qualify for a JUST loan, you must be verified by a JUST community member. To donate to the COVID-19 relief fund, visit hellojust.com/united.

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