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Loans for the little guys

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With the OBDC's help, Salfi and his partner qualified for a $40,000 loan, obtained the money in less than 90 days, and moved their business from its old 2,000-square-foot location to a 7,000-square-foot warehouse in Oakland.

"I don't think we'd still be in business without them," says Salfi. "We needed the capital to move to Oakland and we couldn't have pulled it off without them. They were an asset in advising us, and in providing us with the capital."

Bringing in private investment

The OBDC loan enabled Salfi and his partner to take the business one step further. They leveraged the $40,000 loan into a $225,000 loan through another City of Oakland program, and used those funds to attract another $675,000 from private investors.

With production of Comet brand skateboards totaling several hundred a month, the partners recently stopped making boards for other companies and now concentrate solely on refining and developing the Comet brand.

Their aim is to raise another $250,000 to help them reach their goal of selling 1,500 boards a month by next year.

They also hope to expand into a clothing line and capture a 3 to 5 percent share of a fiercely competitive skateboard market. (There are some 100 skateboard companies, but fewer than 10 make their own boards.)

Salfi's plans for positioning his product include an aggressive ecologically conscious approach based on the fact that his boards are made from environmentally sustainable materials such as woods from "specially managed and certified" forest.

"I hadn't planned it would turn out like this," he says, looking back to when he started making a few boards by hand. "But I always had the dream to pull something like this together."

Microenterprise advocates say that that's the point - allowing people to fulfill their dreams.

While Salvi is doing so on a relatively large scale, many microentrepreneurs work on a much smaller basis. But they still still manage to make substantial gains.

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