By Howard Dyckoff

Kiva Zip has brought its micro-finance mojo to Oakland by partnering with many community-based trustees in the East Bay. Among these is Oakland’s Centro Community Partners,  which is now using web and mobile technology to provide new on-line tools to help any business clarify its mission and build a business plan.

Founded in 2010, Centro Community Partners (Centro) is one of the leading Kiva Zip Trustees.  Their primary mission is to teach under-served women and minorities to become effective business owners through their one-on-one  entrepreneurship education and credit repair program. Centro has developed a methodology for improving how basic business skills and entrepreneurship is taught to minority and other financially under-served people.  They also help that population access capital to start or expand their businesses, including micro-finance loans.

The Centro methodology involves 14 weeks of  classes on important business concepts and one-on-one tutoring by MBA graduate students from local universities. The Centro program also trains the MBA students to be the small business advisers for their clients.
“Our mission is to provide under-served entrepreneurs with access to business technical assistance and capital,” said Naldo Peliks, who is chief operating officer at Centro Community Partners.  “Not all of our entrepreneurs need capital … but for the ones that do, many don’t need much. So, an interest-free loan of up to $10,000 is great.”

Funds for Centro’s incubation came from the Oakland Business Development Corporation (OBDC), which is across the hall from Centro in their Old Town building. Peliks said ODBC was their primary source for micro loans before Kiva Zip and still provides additional support, such as access to their conference room for weekly sessions with Centro entrepreneurs and the MBA Advisor training sessions.

For Centro, the under-served population includes low-income individuals, minorities and women.  Over 95% of  their entrepreneur clients meet federal LMI [low and moderate income] criteria.

Peliks added, “For us it’s been a great success. The loans helped them grow, and expanded the community of people interested in seeing their businesses succeed.”

Centro in turn partners with Community Based Organizations like La Cocina and Operation Hope.

Software to start your business

These apps  are part of the planned Centro Mobile Toolkit of mobile applications which will include their Loan Assessment Tool and the Centro Business Planning Tool. The first app helps entrepreneurs prepare  for micro loans and the second app will help entrepreneurs build their own detailed business plans.  The business plan tool derived from class materials used by Centro’s students.

“We’ve been looking at mobile for the last couple of years,” said Peliks, “at how it can help us provide more entrepreneurs with resources to build their businesses and access capital.  Right now we’re calling them Centro’s Mobile Toolkit.”

Centro is piloting its loan assessment tool with several Kiva Zip Trustees throughout the US. The goal here is to help trustees make better decisions about  borrowers they endorse and identify weak areas where they can help borrowers  increase their chance of success. This should reduce the risk of loan defaults and raise the repayment rate of Kiva Zip loans.

You can find the loan self-assessment tool that Centro is piloting with Kiva at this link.

The app to build a business plan is a larger and more complex software project and will take more time to complete and test.

Centro’s business plan tool for Android and iOS tablets and smart phones runs through many aspects of building a business plan that reflects the goals of business founders and details on customers and potential competitors, as well as steps for marketing the products or services.  Over 25 planning activities are involved, including drafting a mission statement and doing market analysis.
The prototype application provides enough information to build an 8 page business plan. However, the business plans are currently being assembled manually from the info collected by the on-line app.  The goal is to also automate the completion of the business plan, but that may be part of a later version, according to Daniel “DJ” Healy, a Trainer & Program Manager at Centro.

Healy said “The data is generated automatically and I just take it and organize it…. It currently takes 15 minutes with the template and that’s because the app is still in beta form. Later, it will be automatically done.”

Close to publication date for this article, we received this update from Naldo Peliks: “We’ve already initiated the pilot test of our loan assessment tool with Kiva Zip Trustees and got the prototype version of our business planning tool in the App Store.”  A version for Android-powered mobile devices should be ready sometime this summer.

Kiva Zip and the City of Oakland

Our own city government has recently become involved with Kiva.

Oakland was the first municipal government to become a Kiva Zip Trustee.  There are 3 Kiva Zip businesses currently in the City’s microfinance program:  lOAKal , Pollinate Farm & Garden, and OwlNWood in Oakland’s UpTown area.

Kiran Jain is a Senior Deputy City Attorney at City of Oakland who works with Kiva . She views the City’s partnership with Kiva Zip as part of their Government 2.0 efforts and aims to use crowd-funding for  local economic development.

“As a trustee, the City of Oakland ‘endorses’ micro-businesses for zero percent loans and directly connects citizen lenders and their neighbors to local entrepreneurs so they can grow their businesses,” Jain said. “The City also serves as a catalyst in attracting other trustees to endorse micro-businesses. It’s democratizing access to capital.”

Jain explained that Kiva Zip was more than a civic application of new technology. “The connections the City of Oakland fosters through this partnership also happen in more meaningful and personal ways. In some instances, lenders become customers, business advisers, or brand ambassadors for the borrower’s business, promoting it to their family and friends, and supporting the borrower with social capital, as well as financial capital.”

In an April press release, City Attorney Barbara Parker spoke about the City’s partnership with Kiva. “Oakland has extraordinary momentum and energy, and one of the main reasons for that momentum is small, local entrepreneurs. Just a few well-placed loans can spur tremendous economic growth in Oakland neighborhoods.”

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