Programs like Kiva have popularized the concept of microloans for global entrepreneurs, but small green businesses in the U.S. are still woefully underfunded. That’s where the Conservation Fund’s ShadeFund comes in. The new program raises donated capital for small loans that are given to green entrepreneurs. The inaugural sponsor: Mercedes-Benz, which plans to give loans to between 10 and 12 Signature ShadeFund Entrepreneurs in the next two years.
The first two projects to get funding are CityBench, a Connecticut-based company that gathers wood from city trees that come down in storms or
have reached the end of their life to create furniture; and Bluebird Hill Farm, a small farm in North Carolina that sells lavender, herbs, and vegetables. Mercedez-Benz will lend $25,000 to CityBench and $20,000 to Bluebird Hill Farm.
“When small entrepreneurs approach banks, they’re regularly turned down. This is
allowing them to get the working capital to grow to a point where they are
attractive to traditional banks and commercial lenders,” explains Larry Selzer,
President and CEO of The Conservation Fund.
Why is Mercedes-Benz involved? “We’re underway at Daimler/Mercedes-Benz with an enormous, broad commitment to decreasing our imprint on the planet,” says Steve Cannon, vice president of marketing
for MBUSA. “This is an opportunity where interests align.” As with Pepsi’s Refresh project, it’s an opportunity for Mercedes to get positive attention for a minimal cash investment–all while doing good.
Entrepreneurs will be selected in a number of categories–sustainable
farms, forestry and forest products, eco-tourism and small-scale renewable
energy production–for funding over the next two years. Mercedes-Benz will offer loans of $5,000 to $25,000 depending on the size of the project. Individuals are also encouraged to donate funds at the ShadeFund’s website.