Mountain Microenterprise Fund: Finalist's Statement

Social Capitalists

Mountain Microenterprise Fund

Organization's Approach

"Give a person a fish, feed them for a day, teach a person to fish, feed them for a lifetime."

Coretta Scott King added to this statement: "You also need to help people gain access to the fishing hole, capital to purchase fishing gear, transportation to get their catch to market, and fair compensation for their product."

Simply handing out fish is charity. Teaching fishing is the helpful first step towards a different future. But the conditions necessary for sustainability -- so clearly identified by Ms. King -- are the critical elements of economic empowerment.

MMF's fundamental commitment is to economic empowerment. We prioritize working with women, people of color, lower-income individuals, and rural people so they can own their own businesses and increase their family income. These individuals grow their capacity and self-confidence by developing their basic business skills and their knowledge of their particular industry and potential customer base. Their chances of business success are increased by accessing MMF's small business loan pool and by networking and problem solving with their business peers.

Through helping more than 1,800 people work toward economic self-reliance over the past 15 years, MMF has been instrumental in creating a healthier, more just economy in western North Carolina. In real dollars, that is more than a $15 million annual impact on the economy.

Why? Because one of MMF's fundamental beliefs is that "Entrepreneurs Are Made, Not Born." Some people mistakenly think that a person has to have an "entrepreneurial gene" to run a successful business, but that is just not true. A good idea, determination, and the ability to learn from mistakes are more important.

MMF is unique and innovative and has been recognized nationally as one of the premier microenterprise programs in the country. In late 2002, MMF opened its social enterprise, a for-profit retail subsidiary called Mountain Made Inc. so that it could "practice what it preaches" -- entrepreneurial, risk-taking behavior. Mountain Made is a start-up gallery/retail store that sells locally made items, especially crafts. Unlike most ventures, Mountain Made has a double bottom line - social and profit. Its purposes are four-fold:

  • deliver more income into the hands of MMF businesses
  • use the store as a training opportunity for retail clients
  • create an earned income stream to lessen MMF's reliance on grant funding
  • raise the profile of the nonprofit for funding and marketing to clients

Future Vision

Despite having experienced tremendous growth over the past four years with a six-fold increase in clients served, 25,000 emerging entrepreneurs in Western North Carolina are going un-served. For MMF, we envision an organization that is able to provide services to any entrepreneur who has a sound business idea and the commitment to follow through. The entrepreneurs' increased income and improved quality of life will build a more vibrant local economy in Western North Carolina. All who participate will know MMF to be a trusted gathering place and community to bridge the gap between entrepreneurs of a varying incomes, geographies, and ethnicities.

Stories relay the message best. Jamie came to MMF amidst the crisis of an ended marriage and pregnant with her second child. She built on her new skills in massage therapy, and coupled them with MMF loans, support, and confidence to gradually built one of the most successful massage therapy businesses in the area. From public assistance to being voted "Best Massage Therapist in WNC" in only 4 years. MMF is about helping people reach their dreams and create the lives that they want for their families.

We dream of a family of small business owners, staff, board, and donors, who, together, shape this region and provide fuel for the engine of economic growth, job creation and a better quality of life. Every neighborhood and every isolated mountain community would have a successful MMF entrepreneur among its ranks spreading the word about MMF and supporting their fellow businesses.

What kind of impact would that be? In the face of plant shutdowns and economic uncertainty, these businesses would create over 2,000 jobs in our region each year and would generate more than $50 million in annual revenue. This produces the incredible return on investment of 2000%. That's $20 generated for each dollar invested.

Helping people "gain access to the fishing hole" and "capital to purchase fishing gear" is what MMF is all about.

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The above information was provided by the profiled organization.