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It’s Time Maryland Lives Up to Its Tech Promises And Brings Community Finance Solution, SoLo, Back to Market.

By Kendra Nelson
CEO & Founder of The Charm City Maven

Six dollars an hour. That’s how much I made working at a locally owned carousel at the Inner Harbor. The year was 2000, and I spent three high school summers giving out tickets for rides and popcorn, as well as being a Baltimore Tour Guide for patrons visiting our great city. Fast forward 25 years later and, with the help of the internet, my passion for showing the beauty of Baltimore never wavered. Today, I’m still sharing gems of Baltimore from a different lens as a female entrepreneur who is a mother of two boys while running The Charm City Maven, a technology and content platform.

The road to building a brand and a community in Baltimore has been exhilarating but not without its hurdles. Among the most daunting challenges has been managing business expenses. From curating events to capturing the essence of Baltimore’s day-to-day through my eyes, each step requires resources—some of which were beyond my immediate reach. The financial strain of startup costs, coupled with the responsibilities of raising two kids, paints a complex picture. Plus, opportunities for start-up capital from traditional sources like payday loans or grants are hard to come by and don’t always have a consumer’s best interest in mind.

In the summer of 2023, I had a bill that I needed to pay, but I didn’t get my paycheck for a couple of weeks so, like most people do in these scenarios, I turned to family. I asked my little brother for a small loan to assist me in my time of need. Unfortunately, he was unable to front the money himself, but he told me about this great app called SoLo, the nation’s largest Black-owned consumer fintech platform and an affordable alternative to predatory payday lenders and subprime credit providers.

In addition, one of the founders is a Baltimore native, which made it more personal for me. Needless to say, I relied on SoLo as an entrepreneur and began using the free app monthly for additional expenses that went towards things like upgrading my business website hosting platform. In a whirlwind of creativity and responsibility, this fintech app became my unexpected ally, supporter, and investor—something that the city of Baltimore could not provide in my journey as an emerging tech founder.

Using the SoLo app allowed me to allocate funds more efficiently, ensuring that I could cover essential expenses and pay down credit card debt without sacrificing the quality of my content or the authenticity of my community engagements. It also helped boost my credit score so that my borrowing power became stronger as I didn’t have to increase the credit balance of expensive credit card options. Being a SoLo customer meant having the financial freedom to afford that extra trip to a new coffee shop for a review, or securing a spot at local festivals and events that are the heartbeat of my weekly calendars. More importantly, it provided me with the peace of mind that my personal and business finances were in check, allowing me to focus on what truly matters—creating meaningful content and building connections within and beyond Baltimore. Not to mention, SoLo is also cheaper than traditional lending products from financial institutions, which was supported in the 2023 Cash Poor Report.

Undoubtedly, Baltimore is on the fast track to becoming a tech hub. Just last year, Baltimore Mayor Brandon M. Scott said the city has been nurturing a growing tech industry for years, and that the investment support from the Biden administration would help fuel a new wave of innovation, create thousands of jobs, and attract new talent to the area. This is why it’s not only disappointing but also hypocritical that in November of 2023, Maryland’s Office of Financial Regulation under the Department of Labor issued a Cease and Desist to SoLo. Not soon after that, SoLo was no longer available in the state and I, along with thousands of other Baltimore residents, were left without a platform that prevented us from feeling cash-strapped.

City administrators are not living up to the promises of making sure that Baltimore becomes and remains a thriving tech hub. Baltimore deserves better. They need to do something about bringing this necessary fintech platform back to the market, so it can continue to serve its majority of users who are from underserved zip codes. The loss of SoLo’s solution hits close to home as an individual and professional in a new industry like mine yet to be recognized. I am feeling the negative impact of this loss. The people of Baltimore are feeling the impact of this loss. As a lifelong Baltimore resident, it’s necessary that we support and embrace innovations like SoLo that help consumers build capital and reduce the largest wealth gap this country has ever seen.