How Emily Keebler & Kiva Pittsburgh are paving the way for accessible entrepreneurship
We recently sat down to chat with Emily Keebler, Kiva Pittsburgh Program Director for the Riverside Center for Innovation. Emily connects small business entrepreneurs to a supportive network of lenders, technical assistance providers, and other small businesses. To date, Emily has helped almost 250 businesses in Western Pennsylvania receive early-stage capital through Kiva.
Emily introduced Honeycomb to Naomi Auth of Red Star Kombucha - a kombucha brewery based in Pittsburgh. In 2015, Red Star Kombucha raised $5,000 on Kiva Pittsburgh to build out their taproom bar in Downtown Pittsburgh. After outgrowing that space, Naomi worked with Honeycomb Credit earlier this year to raise $40,000 from 38 community investors for her move to a new production and retail space in Larimer.
Let's hear from Emily about Kiva Pittsburgh’s impact, how local communities can bring Kiva to their community, and how Kiva Pittsburgh and Honeycomb are making small business entrepreneurship more accessible than ever.
Let’s start things off with an introduction, tell us a bit about yourself?
I’m Emily Keebler, I work for the Riverside Center for Innovation in Pittsburgh. We're a nonprofit organization dedicated to fostering the growth of an inclusive entrepreneurship ecosystem. We at Riverside partner with Kiva and I serve as the Kiva Pittsburgh Program Director.
So for someone who hasn’t heard of it, what does Kiva do?
Kiva is a nonprofit organization based in San Francisco, but they do work all around the world helping business owners and other populations to access capital via crowdfunded, affordable microloans. Here in the United States, those loans have no interest and zero fees.
By crowdfunding the loans, we are able to use vastly different underwriting than traditional financial institutions. These socially driven underwriting standards let us expand who has access to capital. Also, our lenders, because they are each contributing a small amount of money, are much more risk-tolerant than a traditional financial institution or even perhaps a venture capitalist or a family member who might put a large chunk of money into a business.
That's why the crowdfunding part is exciting, but on the microloan side - a lot of financial institutions don't want to do small loans. We see some other options out there such as credit cards or maybe payday loans for people who are looking for small amounts of capital. But many times they have high-interest rates, especially for those who don't have stellar credit. We want to make small amounts of capital affordable for early-stage businesses.
What types of businesses does Kiva work with?
We typically see businesses that are in their earlier stages but we also help businesses that have been around for a while or businesses that have a very small need. Kiva U.S. loans can be between $1,000 and $10000.
Also, because the loans are crowdfunded, we have to think about what the Kiva lenders are interested in funding. Our lenders are looking for small businesses that are keeping the majority of their money local, not just running a good business but one that is making a positive impact on their community.
What’s one of your favorite Kiva campaigns?
It's kind of hard to pick one, but I'm going to go with one that's top of mind: Caitlyn the owner of Dental Hygiene Nation. When we first met, she was 23 years old with no prior business experience. She was young but with an incredible idea. She had been studying to become a dental hygienist and started sharing her experience on social media. She would post different funny things she would hear throughout the day. All of a sudden, she began gaining a following of other dental hygienists who could relate to her content. She continued to grow her social media presence and put some of the cute ideas she came up with on t-shirts, tank tops, and toothbrushes and started selling those.
In talking to dental hygienists about their clothing interests, she realized that nobody was happy with the scrubs they wore. Dental hygienists were using scrubs worn in hospital settings but in fact, had different needs. Caitlyn came to Kiva looking for a $10,000 loan to design her first scrubs specifically made for dental hygienists and purchase initial inventory. Now, three years later, on her website, you can find the scrubs and a suite of other products for dental hygienists including an option for a subscription box. Not only has she built a business for herself but has a few employees now. She's also helped to connect a community all across the country.
How do you see Honeycomb Credit and Kiva working together?
Honeycomb and Kiva have worked together already to spread the word about crowdfunding. I have referred one business owner, Naomi of Red Star Kombucha, who had received a Kiva loan and has now gotten a loan from Honeycomb. I can imagine that as more Kiva businesses grow, and as crowdfunded loans become more popular, more and more Kiva businesses will grow to use Honeycomb for their larger capital needs.
What advice would you give organizations outside of Pittsburgh that want to bring Kiva to their community?
There are a few ways you can bring Kiva to your community. One is by serving as a Kiva Trustee. Trustees help Kiva identify businesses that are looking for capital. They help spread the word and write a short reference letter about the business that Kiva can see when they're reviewing the application and that lenders can see during the crowdfunding campaign.
Primarily we see nonprofit organizations serving as Trustees. These are organizations that are working with small businesses already. These could be Chambers of Commerce, CDFIs, Community Development Corporations, and occasionally nonprofits that are providing technical assistance to businesses.
The other way is to serve as a hub or partner in the city. Here in Pittsburgh, the Riverside Center for Innovation is that partner. I work for Riverside but I work very closely with Kiva. Not only does Riverside help businesses seeking capital but we also help organizations in the community become Trustees.
And then there's always becoming a lender. Any individual or organization can create an account can become a lender and lend to businesses seeking Kiva loans.
What's your vision for the future of Pittsburgh's small business ecosystem?
My vision is for everybody who is interested in being a business owner to be able to pursue that. There are disparities in who has the financial ability to step away from their job, put their savings into a business, or to access capital to get a business going or to grow it. Those are based on all kinds of historical inequalities so I would love to see us lenders work together with other organizations so that everyone can have an equal opportunity to start and grow a small business.