Another report from the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies Conference.
Alfa Demmellash, co-founder Rising Tide Capital, wanted to bring loan funds to underserved communities to start small businesses. When she met with potential entrepreneurs, they always mentioned lack of capital and access to loans as major problems. But what she found was that they couldn’t get loans even if they had access, because of bad credit history, lack of formal business plans, and lack of knowledge and skills in running a business. Besides financial capital, knowledge capital was also needed.
While most programs are focused on providing capital, micro-finance, or loans, the business development part is completely lacking. “Google ‘how to start a business'” is passing for business development these days. She also found that existing business training solutions were inadequate for the problem, with PowerPoint style lectures on business and sessions offered in far-away locations.
In response, they started a more grassroots education program, Community Business Academies. They licensed an entrepreneur curriculum from South Africa, and adapted it for U.S. Long term: 11 week course. Field trips for competitive analysis. Held in church basements and schools at night to be accessible to the people. They were selective: only 500 were accepted out of 2300 applicants. They also consider it a success when they keep someone who shouldn’t be in business from making a big mistake. After training over 500 people over 6 years, over 230 businesses have been started.
Realized that the networking was a big component, as the community is relatively isolated. Created an alumni group to connect people for years through the process of starting and sustaining a business.
Have to work on credit repair, getting citizenship and documentation, before they can seek funding. They also need legal and other business services. After pro bono services didn’t work out, they started their own group of service providers, many alumni, including legal, marketing, and services.
Demmellash is focused on the toughest urban zip codes, but there is no reason this can’t be adapted for rural areas.
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