By: Abhishesh Adhikari
One of the best parts about my Kiva Fellowship has been the opportunity I get to meet and interact with entrepreneurs. During the 4 months that I spent in Kyrgyzstan, I helped Bai Tushum (Kiva’s partner MFI) launch a new Startup Loan Product and met a wide variety of entrepreneurs all across that country. After I got back from Kyrgyzstan in January, I have been working on a new Kiva project called Kiva Zip, trying to expand it here in Chicago.
Kiva Zip is a new initiative to make interest-free, small business loans to entrepreneurs in the United States. This new lending model is based on community relationships whereby entrepreneurs can request interest-free loans (up to $5000 for the first loan) based on endorsements from organizations or prominent individuals in their communities. Lenders can view the profiles of these entrepreneurs on Kiva Zip’s website, and lend $25 or more at a time.
I have spent a lot of time on the ground networking with community development organizations, business incubators, local government and small business owners to help us identify potential Kiva Zip entrepreneurs. Based on my experiences here, I have found that a lot of small business owners, especially in underserved neighborhoods, have difficulty getting the capital they need to start or expand their businesses. Also, I met many potential entrepreneurs who have well-thought-out business ideas, but need some training and support during the initial phases of their startups.
One of the entrepreneurs that I met was Laura, the owner of Blue Betties Boutique in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood. Laura designs custom jewelry, clothing, and home décor. After working for more than 10 years in various companies, she finally decided to start her own business in 2012. Even though she knew that this was a very risk decision and she was going to be earning a lot less, she was passionate and determined enough to take this big leap.
Looking at all the jewelry Laura had designed, I was able to get a sense of her high skills and extensive experience in this field. I also met several customers at her store front, and they all thought highly of her work. She is also very active and well known in her community. I met Laura through Eighteenth Street Development Corporation, which is prominent economic development organization in Pilsen that Laura is actively involved with.
One of Laura’s biggest challenges is to come up with a marketing strategy that can significantly increase her sales and revenue. I spent some time with her to discuss about future strategies and to support her in the process. There are three major ways in which Blue Betties Boutique plans to increase its sales and revenue.
First, Laura has partnered with a bunch of other stores in Chicago and consigned some of her products so they can be sold in multiple locations. She recently partnered with some stores in New York and hopes it will expand the awareness of her brand even further. She is generally very enthusiastic about expanding her network. When I mentioned some entrepreneurs that I had worked with in Kyrgyzstan who were opening up a new art craft shop, Laura wanted to know if she could somehow partner with them!
Second, Laura is planning to create a website for her store. She currently has a Blue Betties Boutique Facebook page, where she does most of her advertising. But having her own website will allow her to sell her products online to customers all across the United States and beyond as well as strengthen her brand.
Finally, Blue Betties Boutique will start offering workshops and training programs on sewing and jewelry design. This program will directly help boost revenue through training fees, as well as indirectly increase sales by raising awareness about the store in the community.
Laura has requested a loan on Kiva Zip which she hopes to use for a massive advertising campaign this summer. Part of this campaign will involve several training workshops, and she will need to buy plenty of supplies for the workshops. Additionally, with the recent increase in sales, she is hoping to hire one or two employees to help her complete orders on time.
I have had the opportunity to meet and work with many other entrepreneurs like Laura, who have great determination and well-thought out business plans, but need some support in terms of financing and business training during the initial phases of their new businesses. Kiva Zip can play a very important role here by not just providing inexpensive capital to small businesses, but also by promoting interactions between potential entrepreneurs and local business incubators that can provide basic support and training for startups. As Kiva Zip starts to scale, it will be important to learn from our experiences and understand the parameters we need to set to make this sustainable in the long term. However, there is no doubt that this initiative will help a lot of entrepreneurs realize their creative potentials and promote small business growth around the country.
If you want to help Laura get the funding she needs to expand her small business, you can do so by lending her as little as $25 here: https://zip.kiva.org/loans/570 .