Who’s Next? JPalmer Collective Wants To Create Change In Asset-Based Lending
Earlier this year, Jennifer Palmer, the former CEO of Gerber Finance and eCapital Asset-Based Lending, teamed up with Melissa Fleishman, another former Gerber Finance and eCapital executive, to launch JPalmer Collective, an asset-based lender with a clear focus on providing financing to women-owned businesses and supporting sustainability.
Jennifer Palmer had a busy holiday season in 2022. No, not because she was wrapping gifts or traveling across country to visit family. Instead, Palmer used those last few weeks of the year, often a slower time in most industries, including asset-based lending, to start building a new company. Three months after her yuletide strategizing, Palmer launched JPalmer Collective, an asset-based lending firm based in New York.
Although the company is one of the newer entrants to the asset-based lending industry, Palmer is no rookie. Currently the president of the Secured Finance Network, Palmer was formerly the CEO of eCapital Asset Based Lending and Gerber Finance. In addition, while JPalmer Collective is technically the first company Palmer has founded, she already got a taste of the startup experience with Gerber.
“When I first joined Gerber, it was still relatively small and young, and a lot needed to be done to build up the systems, the processes, the procedures,” Palmer says, noting that the company didn’t even have an underwriting team when she first joined. “I always ran Gerber like it was my own in the sense that I imagined it was my own money when making credit decisions and that it was me solely responsible for the problems.”
During her time growing and leading Gerber Finance, Palmer learned the ABL industry inside and out while developing her own abilities as a leader.
“You have to take your wins and your losses and carry those forward into the next game,” Palmer says. “I led Gerber through a global pandemic. This was a great education, and while there’s a lot of moments I’m really proud of, there’s things I openly would admit that I was wrong on.”
Palmer’s experience at Gerber, which was eventually absorbed into parent company eCapital, is ultimately what led her down the path to entrepreneurialism.
“I believe that everyone is an entrepreneur at heart and envisions making that dream a reality,” Palmer says.
JPalmer Collective has another important connection to Gerber Finance, as one of the new company’s first hires was Melissa Fleishman, who joined the company as chief operations officer prior to its launch. Fleishman first began collaborating with Palmer in 2017 and was previously a senior vice president at Gerber and then eCapital Asset Based Lending.
“When I decided I needed a change, then I reached out to Jenn,” Fleishman says. “I knew that had to be the next step for me because we were always such a great team and I knew we could make a success of whatever we would do together.”
Both Palmer and Fleishman agree that having a successful prior working relationship has been a real asset as they build a new company.
“We know each other’s strengths and weaknesses as well as work habits,” Palmer says. “We know that we’re aligned on the important issues like credit, morals, values and how to define success.”
“We both were on the same page right from the beginning,” Fleishman says. “We’ve always been aligned on our goals and work ethic. It’s a very easy relationship.”
Funding women-owned businesses is a major focus of JPalmer Collective’s ethos, with Palmer and Fleishman setting a goal of having more than 50% of the firm’s portfolio made up of companies owned or led by women. This mission is an extension of a similar priority Palmer set at Gerber Finance in 2021 after taking over as CEO, eventually growing the portfolio to 58% women-owned businesses.
“The fact still remains: Women have more difficulty obtaining financing,” Palmer says. “At Gerber, I was in a position where I could help change this reality for some women, and I did so successfully.”
As Palmer and Fleishman continued to create partnerships with women-owned companies at Gerber and eCapital, they were inspired to create one of their own that could provide funding for other women.
“We’d be on a call with female founders and female equity backers and they would always say, ‘This is so refreshing. It’s so nice to speak with female lenders,’” Fleishman says. “It would just spark a conversation afterwards: ‘How cool would that be if there was a female- founded funding company?’”
Although Palmer and Fleishman are setting the same benchmark of more than 50% women-owned companies in the portfolio as they did at Gerber and eCapital, they are aiming to do so at a larger scale with JPalmer Collective, meaning the company plans on building an even larger overall portfolio than Palmer and Fleishman handled previously.
“Percentage-wise, we’re proud of what we achieved historically, but we just want the underlying portfolio to be even bigger so we can really help even more female owners and female-led companies,” Palmer says.
In addition to its emphasis on funding women- owned businesses, JPalmer Collective will also be focusing on providing financing to support environmentally conscious initiatives and companies making strides in the sustainability space, including businesses in the natural products arena.
“This is where the world has to go. Businesses have to focus on sustainability. Our planet just can’t handle any other alternative,” Palmer says. “We’re very eager to use it to ensure that business owners who have a mission and are committed to changing the environment also have the working capital that they need to be successful in doing so. It’s a passion of ours, but it’s also good business and it’s good for the future of the next generation.”
JPalmer Collective hired Laura Newman, a certified public accountant with “Big Four” experience, as CFO shortly after launch, but it is still scaling.
“We’ve been very lucky that we’ve had a lot of people reach out to us wanting to join us, either because they know us and they know that we prioritize creating a special work environment or because they’re just very enthusiastic about what we’re doing and they want to be a part of it,” Palmer says. “We are taking our time to ensure that each hire is the right hire.”
Palmer is taking such a patient approach to expanding the company’s staff because of her desire to create a strong and consistent corporate culture.
“I wanted the platform to be one where our team loves to wake up and go to work,” Palmer says. “It not only feels good in the soul, but it’s also just good business to prioritize good culture.”
Having a small team to start allows JPalmer Collective to be nimble and adaptable, which can be particularly important for a new company dealing with fluctuating market conditions. Thanks to their history working together, Palmer and Fleishman are perfectly equipped to take on the challenges inherent in the first few months after starting a company.
“We’ve really taken the approach to divide and conquer because, again, we know each other and we know each other’s strengths and weaknesses, and we trust one another to do a good job,” Palmer says. “When you’re talking to new prospects, it would be great if we were both on the calls, at least the initial call. We can’t always do that right now because we are still in the startup stage.”
Even if they can’t be on every call together, Palmer and Fleishman are adamant about creating long-term relationships and not just closing transactions.
“We’re not looking to be intrusive by any means, but we’re looking to really build a long-term, meaningful relationship where we visit our clients regularly, where we have cross-the-table conversations,” Palmer says. “We think that long-term relationships not only reduce attrition but also reduce the risks that we have in our industry.”
STARTING A LEGACY
Palmer and Fleishman have both received plenty of support from the ABL industry since launching JPalmer Collective in early March, with former clients and business partners reaching out to share their enthusiasm for the company’s goals. In the meantime, the company has built a solid pipeline, with Axios reporting in early June that it had already accrued $90 million in transaction activity, causing it to seek increased funding, primarily with institution investors.
Palmer and Fleishman admit that they could use a few more hours in the day to juggle all the opportunities they are encountering, but working hard is nothing new for either of them and will be required as they pursue their long-term ambitions.
“We both believe in a culture where everyone must roll up their sleeves and get the job done as efficiently as possible. We really value collaboration, creativity and efficiency above all,” Palmer says. “Long term, it’s to create change and leave behind a legacy.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Phil Neuffer is managing editor of ABF Journal.