With the ongoing credit crunch, borrowing money is hard these days, especially for startups and small businesses.

But there are options for entrepreneurs with the next big idea. One is the Tennessee Rural Opportunity Fund, a $10 million revolving loan fund that provides below-market-rate loans to small, disadvantaged and startup businesses in rural areas. The fund, created in 2007, is a partnership of the state of Tennessee, members of the Tennessee Bankers Association and Southeast Community Capital Corp., a Nashville-based nonprofit lender that administers the fund.

“We do deals that (traditional) financial institutions don’t do because of some issue,” said Hank Helton, SCC senior vice president. A small business with a poor credit history, declining revenues or lack of collateral will not automatically be turned away when it applies for a loan, Helton said. SCC will consider a wide range of factors, including how the broader economy has affected the company and the company’s potential going forward.

“What we really look for is the opportunity. … We try to look ahead and determine what amount of capital is going to help that company grow,” Helton said.

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