Every dollar matters — especially when it comes to small business lending

February 27, 2024 | By Julia Ross

Serial entrepreneur Ron Benegbi is on a mission to help small business owners everywhere gain access to fair credit. Now on his fifth startup venture, he’s taking a new approach to credit assessment and scoring to empower lenders and kick-start entrepreneurs’ dreams.  

“The small business ecosystem is personal to me,” Benegbi says. His family immigrated to Canada in the early 1970s, and his father worked nights as a baker to make ends meet. But he dreamed of opening his own business — a convenience store with groceries, produce and prepared foods, unusual at the time for suburban Toronto. He applied for a loan at his local bank and was told he wouldn’t qualify.

But then the branch manager said something that would change the trajectory of his father’s life: “I believe in people, and there’s something about you.”   

The $5,000 loan turned into a small chain of stores and a springboard into the middle class.  

Today Benegbi is the founder and CEO of Uplinq, a global credit assessment and scoring platform for small business lenders that empowers them to approve and manage risks on loans they might have otherwise declined. Uplinq improves underwriting criteria by incorporating environmental, market and community data to better understand the specific loan applicant, delivering the information seamlessly to lenders via APIs.  

Small and medium-sized businesses have an outsized impact on the global economy. They represent 90% of all businesses, employ roughly 70% of all workers globally and deliver up to $50 trillion in annual spend, but many struggle to get access to credit. A 2023 survey by Goldman Sachs revealed that more than 75% of small business owners are worried about gaining access to credit. 

"You have to fight for every dollar."
Ron Benegbi

Small businesses fall into what Benegbi calls the “missing middle” — too large to be served by microfinance institutions but too small and high risk to be served by the formal banking sector. He wondered, “How can we help small business lenders better assess and evaluate risk through a new lens?” 

This question drove Benegbi to connect with Pat Reily, a financial services veteran who in 2006 launched an AI-powered credit decisioning platform for banks that has been used to underwrite more than $1.5 trillion in loans worldwide. Together they co-founded Uplinq to show banks the bigger picture beyond the balance sheet. It pulls on billions of locally validated data points amassed over 15 years to make advanced, limited-risk loan recommendations.  

In January, the company, now in its third year, joined the Mastercard Start Path Small Business program, the company’s startup engagement program that helps founders grow and scale their business through stage-relevant support, including enterprise partnership readiness training, a dedicated mentor, introductions to Mastercard partners and opportunities for technology collaboration.  

Like the people his platform ultimately serves, Benegbi is certainly no stranger to starting a business from the ground up — he’s now on his fifth venture and likely his last, he laughs, if his wife has her way. “I’m unemployable — I could never work in a corporate job,” he says candidly. “I need to be at that leading edge, in the front of innovation and that challenge of building something is thrilling.”  

His advice for future startup founders? No matter how successful your business becomes, he says, “You have to fight for every dollar.” 

Julia Ross, Specialist, Communications