Fast Company

Kiva City: Using Microloans To Revitalize Small Businesses In Struggling American Cities

Building off its incredible success funding entrepreneurs in the developing world, the microloan company has turned its eye toward America, where it is giving loans in cities like New Orleans and Detroit.

Microfinance platform Kiva has proven many times over that people are willing to give $25 microloans to entrepreneurs in developing countries. Now the platform is bringing its microfinance savvy to small business owners in struggling areas of the U.S. with Kiva City, a program launched this past June. The program has already proven successful in Detroit and New Orleans (the two launch cities), where 19 initial loans have been fulfilled by microlenders. That's over $135,000 in loans.

One of the lucky New Orleans entrepreneurs is Torrie Jakes, an aesthetician who received a $10,000 loan. A New Orleans native, Jakes attended law school and moved to the East Coast before feeling the pull to return to New Orleans, where she began offering medical skin treatment services at doctor's offices. "I was a contract attorney, but I wasn't getting anywhere," she says. "In my family, all the women are aestheticians. This was born out of wanting to be part of the conversation that they were having."

Post-Hurricane Katrina, Jakes set up her wares in two different doctor's offices. Both times, the offices closed and she had to start from scratch. Jakes quickly decided that she should brand her services so that she could keep her identity in case of another closure. And so Jakes Aesthetics, a medi-spa that offers laser hair removal, waxing, chemical peels, and more, was born.

After learning about Kiva's New Orleans program through the Good Work Network, Jakes applied and was selected as one of the city's first Kiva entrepreneurs. She has started using her loan money to make improvements, including fresh towels, sheets, and a separate waiting room for customers (previously, they shared a waiting room with patients from the attached doctor's office). "This is allowing me the luxury of the medi-spa experience," she says.

The success of entrepreneurs like Jakes is important in New Orleans, which the Kiva and Visa Study of Small Business Trouble Spots pinpoints as one of the U.S. cities struggling the most with small business stress. And the Kiva City program will only grow from here, with new entrepreneurs in both Detroit and New Orleans as well as small business owners in as-yet-unannounced cities that Kiva plans to work with. Because any struggling local economy--whether it's in the U.S. or Uganda--can use some strong small businesses.

[Image: Kurt Coste]

Reach Ariel Schwartz via Twitter or email.

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