Starting small seems especially difficult sometimes, so we went hunting for some interesting programs to help microenterprise entrepreneurs get off the ground. Some offer microloan resources and help, while others offer classes and counseling to help navigate the often unpredictable world of entrepreneurship. Here are some of the microloan programs in major cities nationwide:
- Los Angeles:Charo Community Development, founded in 1967, provides microenterprise assistance in both English and Spanish. Open to anyone (not just people in the local community), it teaches aspiring entrepreneurs to develop a business plan and a marketing plan, and provides them with access to the internet--at no charge. The 11-week advanced course costs $199 to cover materials, but students get weekly expert lectures on all aspects of entrepreneurship. Charo also serves as the liaison between entrepreneurs and financial institutions, and does the legwork with lenders. "Our goal is to be the mecca of economic development," says Cynthia Amador, president and CEO of Charo.
- New York City:Project Enterprise was founded in 1997 to help build the local economy. Microloans range from $750 to $12,000 and are available even to entrepreneurs with less-than-perfect credit--they look at "social collateral." Says Arva Rice, executive director, "What we mean [is that] they agree to come to these meetings on a biweekly basis, engage with the rest of the group, and invest their time and resources [in] the group." Startups attend the six-week training and learn to put together an executive summary, profit and loss statements, income and expense ledgers, and so on.
- San Francisco:MicroMentor, launched in 2001, provides guidance to startups by pairing microenterprise entrepreneurs with mentors via an online matching service. "It reduces barriers that microentrepreneurs typically have," says David Rand, director, adding that they're in the process of recruiting mentors from across the country. Based on industry and type of business, entrepreneurs and mentors communicate at least once a week for three months via phone, e-mail or in person. Mentors must have at least three years of entrepreneurial experience or five years of expertise in a specific field. Entrepreneurs must have been in business for a minimum of six months.