Creating change through crowdfunding
For Ximena Morales and Carlos Rosas, the coming summer market season promises to provide a big growth boost to their small business, Huitzil Imports. In addition to jewelry, candles and other items made by the couple, the business carries handmade items created by artisans and craftspeople in Mexico. Morales and Rosas were planning a big shopping trip to bring back enough of an inventory of the unique items—from colorful boots and apparel to whimsical whistles and hand-painted glass salt-and-pepper shakers—to ensure a profitable season.
The couple had purchased their airline tickets, but as the date to head out on the shopping trip neared, they were still short enough money to purchase inventory. Then Morales remembered hearing about an opportunity for entrepreneurs and small businesses to obtain micro-loans on a crowd-sourcing platform called KIVA.
For as little as $25, anyone can invest in a micro-loan request created by an entrepreneur to support their business. As entrepreneurs successfully pay off the micro-loans, investors receive their money back, which they can then use to support other micro-loan requests by other entrepreneurs.
In order to launch a micro-loan campaign, Kiva requires each borrower to get a small number of friends and family member investors to support the campaign—that number, which can be as low as five, is based on the amount of the loan request. Morales and Rosas signed up and began to drum up support to reach their qualifying number. Once they hit that target, their request was opened to investment from the general public
The crowd-funding platform provided Morales and Rosas with access to information about those investing in their request. As the couple watched the amount contributed climb toward their $2,000 goal, they noticed that while many of the supporters were family and friends, some were people they had never met. One investor in particular caught them pleasantly off guard.
"It made me feel good to know people supported us," Morales said. "I saw Umpqua Bank and thought, 'Wow. I couldn't believe they noticed us.'"
Make a loan, change a life
Using crowdfunding has become a popular way for businesses to raise capital. Platforms like Kickstarter and Go Fund Me, however, ask people to made a donation. Kiva took a different approach.
Kiva began 17 years ago as a nonprofit with the idea of using crowd-funding to provide micro-loans for entrepreneurs in developing countries, from a man in Columbia in need of a few hundred dollars to buy bait for his fishing business to a woman seeking a few thousand dollars to buy more crops for their farm in Tajikistan.
The concept took off, both among entrepreneur borrowers and lenders. Since the platform launched in 2005, 1.9 million lenders have supported micro-loans totaling $1.6 billion for investors in 77 countries. The repayment rate on those loans—an impressive 96 %.
About eight years ago, Kiva expanded to bring the make crowdfunded micro-loan opportunities available to entrepreneurs across the U.S.
Through Kiva, entrepreneurs in the U.S. are able to request micro-loans without the need to bring collateral or credit scores to the table. Instead, Kiva uses an approach called "social underwriting." Entrepreneurs seeking micro-loans are first asked to ask family and friends to make a few initial investments as a way for the entrepreneurs to show they are committed to their campaign and have others who believe in their trustworthiness. The number of investments for this "private" phase of the micro-loan process ranges from 5 to 35, depending on the loan amount being sought. Once that handful of investments is reached, the campaign goes public, where any person interested in supporting the micro-loan can do so for an investment of as little as $25. There are also options for businesses and companies to get their employees involved as lenders, through providing gift certificates and supporting friendly team competitions.
In addition to the crowdfunding platform in the U.S., Kiva has established hubs with partners that provide wrap-around business development services to help entrepreneurs who receive micro-loans build financial competency and basic business skills to help their businesses succeed. On the west coast, there are currently hubs in Washington and California.
While Oregon entrepreneurs are able to go directly to the KIVA platform to start a micro-loan campaign, as Rosas and Morales did, there currently isn't a hub in the state where they can also receive business support to dovetail with their efforts to have a micro-loan funded. That, however, may soon change.
"Oregon is now one of our top priorities for adding a hub," Eli Chernier, director of Kiva US, told Opportunity magazine.
A perfect partnership
Kiva's efforts to establish a hub in Oregon have gained momentum as the result of a new partnership with Umpqua Bank and its Small Business Empowerment Program. Umpqua launched the program a couple of months ago, but it has been in the making for much longer.
"It's something we've been building over the past couple of years … but 2020 really put it in the spotlight and renewed a sense of urgency for us in how we could bring things together to address racial and social justice issues and the economic impact on underserved communities," Eve Callahan, Umpqua's chief marketing and communications officer, told Opportunity magazine. "As the pandemic continued, we really saw the impact, particularly on women. All of those impacts went toward refining the program."
The program is fueled by Umpqua's Charitable Foundation and a volunteer program for employees. The Foundation provides multi-year grants for nonprofits and community groups that work to disrupt inequity and create greater opportunities for BIPOC and women entrepreneurs as well as small businesses located in rural or unincorporated areas, where small business development and access to capital resources are often lacking. The volunteer component provides up to 40 hours per year for each employee to work with nonprofits.
The Small Business Empowerment Program currently consists of four focuses, each developed with a different partner to focus on providing BIPOC, women and rural-area entrepreneurs with specific support to help them gain access to tools and resources to help them start and grow micro and small businesses and develop financial competency.
"We talked with community partners, entrepreneurs, customers and other banks to understand where the need exists and how we as a bank can provide solutions," Callahan says.
For its work with Kiva, Umpqua is creating a $1 million fund that will provide a 3-to-1 match for minority and women entrepreneurs. That means that for every $25 an entrepreneur supported by the fund receives from a lender, Umpqua will invest another $75.
Callahan says the fund is designed to help address the challenge of accessing capital that many BIPOC, women and low-income small businesses face. Small businesses in general often don't have the assets, equity or collateral needed to qualify for loans at traditional banks. The hurdles are even higher for BIPOC and women-owned businesses due to systemic racism, discrimination and language barriers. Banks, meanwhile, must adhere to strict federal regulations, which make it difficult for them to offer the micro-loans of $50,000 or less that small businesses need in order to scale to become stable enough to qualify for lending from the mainstream banking industry.
Getting involved in the crowd-funding platform, however, allows Umpqua to step into a new arena of providing entrepreneurs with access to capital without the usual regulatory restrictions. It also starts to build important relationships with micro-businesses that will help them feel comfortable approaching Umpqua once they're ready to pursue larger loans.
"We're trying to think creatively about how we bring the pieces together for these entrepreneurs to make that experience as seamless and easy as possible. So, we were thrilled to find (Kiva's crowdfunding platform)," Callahan says.
Even though the $1 million Umpqua Managed Loan Fund through Kiva is just getting started, Umpqua and staff already have invested in some Oregon entrepreneurs' micro-loans, including the one that Morales and Rosas sought.
"Watching those first ones get funded was like, 'Oh my gosh,'" Callahan says. "It was thrilling, and we can't wait to keep it growing."
Affordable meets flexible
Watching their micro-loan get funded was equally exciting for Morales and Rosas, especially when they realized they had reached their $2,000 target. They say being able to use the money to purchase more inventory is going to be a game-changer for Huitzil Imports.
The couple started their business in 2000, after Morales took a series of business classes offered by Adelante Mujeres. The nonprofit, based in Forest Grove, provides education, leadership training and enterprise opportunities for Latinas and their families.
Morales and Rosas often traveled to Mexico to visit family and brought back items that friends in Oregon requested. As the requests grew, Morales realized there was an opportunity to start a small business offering access to the items they brought back. The couple decided to focus on unique items created by artisans, an approach that spoke especially to Rosas, who makes jewelry that is also sold in the shop. The couple also makes candles and offers products featuring healing herbs.
Soon after the couple started their small business, Adelante Mujeres approached Morales about an opportunity to be a part of Casa Qui, an incubator shop the nonprofit planned to open in its building along Main Street in Forest Grove. Rosas and Morales decided to take a chance and join two other micro-businesses in the incubator space.
At the time, Rosas was working a night-shift job at a warehouse in the Portland metro area while Morales ran the shop. Eventually, though, they realized they needed to either both commit fully to growing Huitzil or walk away from the venture. They decided to take a chance, with Morales joining Rosas full-time in growing their business.
With all of their effort and attention focused the business, they were able to maintain revenue through the pandemic—but, they also felt they were ready to grow the business. The coming summer market season offered the perfect opportunity. However, the only way they would be able to step up to the next revenue goal in their marketing plan would be to increase the amount of inventory they had on hand.
Morales had heard about Kiva through Adelante Mujeres. The more she and Rosas learned as they looked through the Kiva site, the more they became convinced seeking a micro-loan might be the perfect solution to their inventory problem. Through crowd-funding on the platform, entrepreneurs in the U.S. are able to seek micro-loans between $1,000 and $15,000, with no interest and up to 36 months to pay back the money.
With such affordable, flexible terms, Morales and Rosas say they feel confident they'll be able to pay off their microloan. Morales adds that she thinks the Kiva platform will find success as entrepreneurs in Oregon find out about the opportunity.
Callahan agrees and says Umpqua is eager to spread the word about Kiva's micro-loan platform and Umpqua's fund to both entrepreneurs as borrowers and the general public as potential lenders.
"When people make an investment in entrepreneurs at this level, they take it very seriously and pay it back. The $1 million in (Umpqua's fund), it will self-perpetuate and continue to support the fund," Callahan says. "If you have a small business or even just an idea, there are funds available. You can apply to Umpqua's fund; you can do it right now."
Business focus: Holistic items, ancestral treasures, sustainable product, jewelry and more
Owners: Ximena Morales and Carl0s Rosas
Location: Casa Qui, 2030 Main St., Forest Grove
Phone: 971-901-5202 or 971-301-9558
To learn more about creating a micro-loan campaign on Kiva, visit the the Kiva Umpqua fund page.
To date, about 13,000 lenders have invested about $900,000 in micro-loans for 150 Oregon-based entrepreneurs through the Kiva crowdfunding platform.
Finding an Oregon entrepreneur to support is relatively easy. The platform allows investors to search for loans to support in a variety of ways, such as by country or geographic region or by focus areas such as agriculture, retail, food-based ventures and even clean energy.
There's even a way to pull up entrepreneurs who have a few days left to reach their goal as well as new requests that might have slipped past most investors—these campaigns also are highlighted by Kiva's team to bring them to investors' attention.
To learn about becoming a lender through Kiva and helping entrepreneurs in Oregon—and around the world—achieve their small business dreams, visit www.kiva.org
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