Small business owners struggling to make ends meet may be interested in two new programs aimed at offering financial assistance to entrepreneurs in hard times. And they come from two organizations you’re probably already familiar with and trust.
The first opportunity is through Kiva. Kiva has been lending financial assistance to business owners in Africa and other developing countries since 2005. However, they realize that hardship happens everywhere, not just in developing countries. And just last week they brought their microplatform lending program to the US in a special pilot program, allowing lenders to make small loans to low-income U.S. entrepreneurs to help give them a boost.
Just as it always has, Kiva will act as the middleman in the transactions between between US entrepreneurs and those wanting to donate. Lenders will be able to browse entrepreneur profiles created on the site and then make a small donation to help (the average donation is around $400) the small business of their choosing. The entrepreneurs are then responsible for returning the money back to the lenders, who can then either keep it, donate it back to Kiva or lend it to another entrepreneur.
Right now, the program is still in beta mode, which means it’s closed to the public. But the current test run will feature 45 US businesses in New York, San Francisco, Boston, Atlanta and Miami, and is definitely worth keeping an eye on. If you want to help or just watch what they’re doing, you can get more information from Kiva’s partners OpportunityFund.org or Accion USA. I’ll definitely be watching to see what happens. This could create an unbelievable support network for budding US entrepreneurs.
The other program small business owners will want to read up on comes from the US Small Business Association. Just yesterday, the SBA launched the America’s Recovery Capital program that was enacted as part of the government’s $700 billion recovery package. ARC is now accepting applications and is expected to run through the money quickly. Which means act fast or lose out.
ARC will offer established SMB owners up to $35,000 in short-term relief if they can prove they’re facing “immediate financial hardship”, like declining sales and revenues, difficulty in making payments on existing debt, hardship paying employees and/or rent, etc. However, note the word “established” in the eligibility requirements. It looks like if you’re a brand new start up, you’re out of luck.
According to the requirements, to be eligible for the loan your business must be at least two years old, you must have been profitable for at least one of the past two years and have a solid plan for how you’ll be profitable in the future. The loans offered through the ARC program are intended to help SMB owners pay off other loans or debt, not necessarily to help you get going. For example, if you have credit card debt related to running your business, you can use the loan for that. If you want to use the money to expand your business in some other fashion, don’t get too excited. On the upside, SMB owners who are granted a loan won’t have to worry about repaying it until 12 months after their last loan disbursement and its interest free for five years.
The SBA will be offering these ARC loans until September 30, 2010 or until the SBA goes through the $250 million allocated. My guess is the latter will happen first. If you want to get your hands on some of the loan money, head to the US Small Business Association Web site for more on the ARC loan program, as well as an application.
With so many SMB owners facing hard times, it’s nice to see a bit of a relief aimed at them.