To say that Pittsburgh, Penn. nonprofit Urban Innovation21 is a model trustee is an understatement. Urban Innovation21 has only been a Kiva Zip trustee for four months but has already helped four small businesses get a crowd-funded loan apiece. All of the small businesses, from Tracy's Shear Delight Beauty Salon to Angela's A-1 Business Center, are now on the repayment stage. It's almost too good to believe. How does Urban Innovation21 do it?


The Hill District-based organization describes itself as "a public-private partnership that boosts regional economic development through 21st century innovation-driven entrepreneurship." Urban Innovation21 works with local businesses, community-based nonprofits, universities, and state, county, and city officials to promote economic development in what is called the Pittsburgh Central Keystone Innovation Zone. The initiative aims to bring together tax incentives and entrepreneurial resources in under-served areas of the city. With all of that experience in economic development, it is little shock that the organization jumped at the opportunity to become a Kiva Zip trustee and add another tool to their toolbox with 0% interest, collateral-free micro-loans as an offering. 


How did Urban Innovation21 decide who to endorse in the Hill District? Drawing on their connections to the community and comprehensive understanding of small businesses, the team held a competition. More than 50 small business owners showed interest, but to even be considered for an endorsement Urban Innovation21 required participants to attend four sessions over four weeks on entrepreneurship. During each workshop, the team and the participants worked through everything from a good business plan to how to market a product. By the end of the four weeks, the field had narrowed considerably and soon after the team decided who to endorse from among the participants. 


The competition format turned out to be wildly successful and Urban Innovation21 is planning on holding a similar contest in Homewood, another Pittsburgh neighborhood. And for those who do not succeed on the first go-around, the community-based nonprofit plans to keep at it until as many new small businesses are operating in the Pittsburgh Central Keystone Innovation Zone as possible. 

The Hill District, a neighborhood in the Pittsburgh Central Keystone Innovation Zone

The Urban Innovation21 insignia

About the author

Aletheia Henry

Aletheia Henry began her career as a Caseworker for Children’s Services in Columbus, Ohio. After earning her Master’s Degree in Journalism and Communication at The Ohio State University she joined President Obama’s 2008 campaign in Iowa. Aletheia travelled to eight states as a Field Organizer in the 2008 primary and was promoted to Regional Field Director in Michigan for the General Election. As an organizer, she was responsible for building relationships with community members, recruiting volunteers, and ensuring voter contact goals were met. After 2008, Aletheia was asked to stay with President Obama’s organization and serve as the Michigan Director for Organizing for America. She was then promoted to the Northeastern States Regional Director at the DNC where she was responsible for coordinated efforts in special elections and issue campaigns in nine states as well as working cross departmentally on press strategy, digital engagement, and political relations. As Obama’s General Election Director for Pennsylvania in 2012, Aletheia hired and managed a staff of over 300; built relationships with donors, elected officials, and stakeholders; set and exceeded voter contact goals and delivered Pennsylvania. Aletheia resides in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.