The management at PlasmaQuest, a $5-million company in Richardson, Tex., knows from experience that it takes time to win adequate financing. The company makes high-density plasmas used in the manufacture of semiconductors. Since its founding, in 1987, the company has enjoyed impressive revenue growth, but in recent years its meager cash flow was inadequate to fund the production of $500,000 orders.
Zan Mengle joined the company nearly three years ago as chief financial officer, bringing a solid background in financial analysis and familiarity with the rules and priorities of the banking community. When she signed on, PlasmaQuest was limping along with a single $200,000 term loan. "We had just signed an international order for $300,000 worth of equipment, and soon after that, we got two more overseas orders for an additional $600,000. But we didn't have the working capital," Mengle recalls. Overseas customers were unwilling to make down payments, and they refused to comply with the payment terms PlasmaQuest's U.S. customers met.
Mengle started her search for financing with an investigation of local options. "There was a local export program back then, but it had only about $1 million in its kitty," she says. At the same time, the better-heeled local bankers didn't think PlasmaQuest qualified for what Mengle terms purchase-order financing -- cash that covers corporate needs from the moment a sales order takes effect.
Eventually, Mengle's contacts put her in touch with a foreign banker who was interested in bankrolling the overseas activities of U.S. companies. That lender extended "a $1.5-million line of credit," says Mengle, "which was wonderful . . . except for one problem: only $100,000 of it could be used on U.S. business. But it still helped because it supported some foreign growth and ultimately helped give us credibility among U.S. bankers."
It took considerable determination and more time than Mengle had anticipated before she obtained the financing PlasmaQuest need-ed. "It was so ironic," the CFO recalls. "Dozens of bankers approached us, but they'd end up rejecting us when they saw the type of financing we needed."
Eventually, a local banker suggested that PlasmaQuest seek Small Business Administration backing for a purchase-order-collateralized credit line. "With the help of a specialist who packaged us for the SBA approval pro-cess," says Mengle, "we finally worked out a deal that was right for us: a $1-million line of credit, 75% of which was guaranteed by SBA funds. We had to pay a 2% fee on that $750,000, but it was worth it -- especially since we got to factor that cost into the overall size of the loan." And the interest rate on the loan is only 1% above prime, compared with the 2.5% above prime PlasmaQuest pays its foreign bankers.
"When you're looking for bank financing," Mengle advises, "persistence is your strongest weapon. That, and a willingness to provide every piece of financial information any banker could ever require."