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How a NorCal private school founder achieved security, financial freedom through buying commercial real estate with SBA 504 loan

May 15, 2018 | Small Business Loans
How a NorCal private school founder achieved security, financial freedom through buying commercial real estate with SBA 504 loan, CDC Small Business

A version of this blog post originally appeared on CNote’s website. CNote is a financial platform for socially conscious savers and investors. CDC Small Business Finance is a proud partner of the Bay Area startup.

We don’t typically think of schools as small businesses in the traditional sense. But consider private schools. They embody the spirit of entrepreneurship in every sense: These facilities are often forged from one person’s vision, supported by a body of dedicated employees, and sustained by capital from both investors and their clients – in this case, students and their parents.

Today, we feature Cambrian Academy, a San Jose-based private school that helps shape the academic and personal identities of its students to prepare them for college and beyond.

Unwavering commitment to students acts as the driving force behind Cambrian Academy, an institution that has gained even more solid financial ground ever since Delgado bought a building to house his teachers and students instead of going through the uncertainties of leasing. 

“I don’t want this school to just be better than other schools — I want Cambrian Academy to be in a league of its own,” writes founder and headmaster Dave Delgado on the school’s website.

Business was decades in the making

Delgado has been running schools since 1991. About a decade go, he founded Cambrian Academy after seeing “so many college prep schools that weren’t really preparing students for college,” he said. “They were just using that as a fancy name for their high school.”

His aim was to create a truly unique place to learn, where students have access to both academic and athletic rigors.

With Cambrian Academy, that vision has become a reality for Delgado. Today, the 110-student capacity school serves grades 6 through 12 and is home to 14 faculty members.

What’s more, Cambrian impressively boasts a 100 percent college-placement rate. To memorialize their students’ matriculations, the walls of Cambrian’s main administrative offices are adorned with a banner from colleges to which students have been accepted. Most recently, students have gone on to Columbia University, USC, and UC Berkeley, among many others.

What sets this school apart from the rest?

If you peer into a classroom at Cambrian Academy, you’ll find it to be different from the typical picture of an American high school classroom. Class size ranges anywhere from 4-12 students, making for an intimate educational setting where every student receives plenty of attention.

How a NorCal private school founder achieved security, financial freedom through buying commercial real estate with SBA 504 loan, CDC Small Business

A look around Cambrian Academy’s facility.

Instead of rows facing the teacher, the seating arrangement — known as the Harkness table — involves a single, oval table in the center, allowing students to face one another and engage in lively discussion. Delgado implemented this format to copy the seminar-style instruction practiced at Oxford University.

And this is just one of many areas in which the school looks less like a high school and more like the colleges its students aspire to attend. Other hallmarks include its unique and diverse selection of courses, from College Prep Sports to History of Rock ‘n’ Roll, alongside the full range of traditional AP courses. Cambrian also provides robust elective programs including marine biology and a motorsports team.

Hailing from all over the world, Cambrian’s instructors were hand selected by Delgado for their didactic talent, considerable subject-matter expertise, and above-and-beyond enthusiasm and dedication to their students.

“The Cambrian Way” encapsulates: interacting with other minds, listening carefully, speaking respectfully, accepting new ideas and questioning old ones, using new knowledge, and enjoying the richness of human interaction.

Taking pride in ‘second-chance stories’

Delgado recounts many success stories stemming from his school. One recent Cambrian graduate, at age 16, made it into dream school MIT after undergoing six years of customized, accelerated study at Cambrian.

Delgado especially enjoys retelling the “second-chance stories.”

“We also have the students that because of the environment (here), because of the care they are given by the teachers, find out they’re capable of a lot more,” he added.

From shy students with autism to students who need additional encouragement, Cambrian has a history of engaging and unlocking the full potential of pupils who enter its doors.

“We work ’em hard. And then they thank us later,” said Delgado with a smile.

He was referring specifically to gratitude expressed by a Cambrian graduate who had benefited from the school’s special sports program. It allowed the student to have a course schedule built around his soccer schedule, so he didn’t have to choose between one or the other.

The student went on to UC Berkeley to join the soccer team. He later thanked his teachers at Cambrian for training him to effectively write 10-page papers, a skill that has served him well in the demanding classes at Berkeley.

Finding financial freedom through SBA 504 loan

Cambrian Academy recently reached a major benchmark: the purchase of their own property. During the process, Delgado experienced many challenges including an exhausting search for a location, and the many complications involving navigating city ordinances.

But the most crucial challenge was finding the business capital.

That’s why Delgado sought community-lending support from CDC Small Business Finance, a trusted CNote partner and non-profit. With an SBA 504 loan, he was able to “move quickly” when he finally found a suitable property for their school. He used the funds to buy the property, and pay for relocation and renovation costs.

The school’s new home is roughly twice the size of their previous leased space, which was only able to house 10 classrooms. The new space allowed Delgado to add classrooms, increasing capacity to 29 more students and the number of teacher hires.

For Delgado, personal success went beyond just the purchase of the nearly 14,000-square-foot property. It also stemmed from the autonomy and sense of security that came with the real estate transaction.

“This particular loan allowed us to become independent,” he said. “We’d been leasing up to this point, and now being able to have our own property made all the difference in the world.”

Cambrian Academy is now firmly established as an independent institution, both financially and in its approach to education. It is an institution students and parents can be assured will remain for years to come.

In many ways, this loan and the freedom it delivered has allowed Cambrian Academy to focus wholly on what matters most: educating and preparing future leaders.

Jobs created and preserved: 14

More on CNote: The Oakland-based company’s flagship product offers a 2.5% return on savings — and 100% social impact — by tapping into Community Development Financial Institutions, or CDFIs, which exist to help finance underserved small business owners. Learn more about CNote and their mission here.

Want to learn more about how an SBA 504 loan can help you? Read more about the program and the benefits of buying real estate vs leasing commercial property. Our experienced loan officers can match you with the financing that’s best for you and your business. Let’s talk! Reach us at loaninfo@cdcloans.com or (619) 243-8625.

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