Entrepreneurs who have a solid business idea but limited financial resources have an option in Kiva, an international nonprofit founded in 2005.
Amy Narr, Kiva program lead, is working on her master’s degree and has a two-year contract with Kiva and the Wisconsin Women’s Business Initiative Corporation. Her role is to get the word out so more entrepreneurs can either expand or start a business.
“Everyone can have a dream, but the answer isn’t there for some people,” Narr said. “For those who don’t have the resources, it fills the gap.”
Wisconsin has proven to be fertile ground for those seeking assistance. As of October, the program has loaned $1,133,900 to 203 borrowers. Much of it has been in the Milwaukee area, but with the recent addition of a WWBIC office in Appleton, Narr is seeing added focus in northeastern Wisconsin.
“Kiva is available to all entrepreneurs in Wisconsin," she said. "I am the lead for the program based in Milwaukee but can assist people through the application process via phone and email if there are too far away to meet in person.”
Locally, Kiva works with WBBIC to provide support.
“This organization can coach and advise them through not only the use of their Kiva loan, but also the general growth, health and sustainability of their business as they launch and grow,” Narr said.
As a Kiva trustee, WBBIC can endorse Kiva borrowers on their campaign and vouch for their character, business and social impact. A trustee is not economically responsible, but by working with an entrepreneur, should have faith in the business plan and potential for success. In many cases, WBBIC also may provide additional financing.
The process itself is unique. Unlike traditional loans, the loans are provided by individuals and groups who believe in the individual. A person may lend as little as $25, and 100 percent of every dollar that is provided by donors goes to funding the loans. As a pioneer in crowdfunding, Kiva says that the loans aren’t just about money. They are about playing a special part in someone else’s story and making an impact.
Narr said that Kiva crowdfunds loans in more than 80 countries. An average of $2.5 million in loans is crowdfunded each week, and the loans are at 0 percent interest. Although those lending money don’t receive interest, the vast majority of the loans are repaid. As a trustee, WWBIC collects the payments from those it supports.
The minimum requirements, Narr said, are that the person applying must be at least 18 years old, not in current bankruptcy or foreclosure, not a franchise or multilevel marketer, and must use the loan for a legal and socially responsible business.
“I like that the program is inclusive,” Narr said. “The main struggle right now in America is getting started, and Kiva offers an opportunity that isn’t present in other areas. For many people, it is the answer.”
The process may be time-consuming, but borrowers like Christine Ameigh, a former Green Bay resident and owner of Slide Food Cart & Beyond Catering, says it is worth it. Ameigh’s story will be featured in next week’s column.
But for those new to the program, Narr says the process is one of going through seven steps: filing a loan application with Kiva, contacting her to assist, having Kiva review the application, raising a portion of the loan from family and friends, telling your story to the lender network at www.kiva.org, waiting for funds to be raised by donors in the Kiva network, and once funded, repaying the loan monthly.
Narr has seen the growth of businesses, and says the most successful have been tech savvy with a strong network of supporters. They also have a good business plan that outlines their commitment and vision.
“Borrowers who work closely with us are more likely to succeed,” she added. “I got my start in micro lending in Peru where I saw a need for a program like this. Kiva provides opportunities all over the world, and I am proud to be working for them.”
Tina Dettman-Bielefeldt is co-owner of DB Commercial Real Estate in Green Bay and past district director for SCORE, Wisconsin.