Kiva NWA Supports Women, Entrepreneurs of Color with Microloans

Business owners can attend a workshop July 22 to learn more about the program.

Hispanic workers sitting at a table discussing business

Bites & Bowls is a Springdale-based restaurant offering breakfast and lunch that uses Mexican ingredients to put a spin on American dishes. In 2020, it became the first business to receive a loan through the Kiva Northwest Arkansas Hub. 

“We didn’t know what to expect, but it went really well,” co-founder Sandra Carrasco says.

Local entrepreneurs interested in getting their own Kiva loan can learn more about the program during a free workshop Thursday night at the Rogers-Lowell Area Chamber of Commerce.

Kiva is an international nonprofit established in 2005 in San Francisco with a mission to expand financial access to underserved communities. The organization provides zero percent interest microloans to disadvantaged borrowers such as women, minorities, members of the LGBTQ community and people with nonviolent incarceration records. The process requires no credit score, collateral pledges or U.S. citizenship documentation, and there are no fees.

The Kiva Northwest Arkansas Hub launched in 2019 and is administered by the Startup Junkie Foundation. The hub funded its 45th business this week. Forty-one of those loans have been given to a woman or a minority. The remaining four went to businesses that support mission-focused people in the community.

Martha Londagin, capital access manager for the Kiva NWA Hub, says it’s important to support women business owners and minority entrepreneurs because historically they’ve been discriminated against in the traditional lending arena. 

For example, married women were denied credit cards or loans in their own name until the passage of the Equal Credit Opportunity Act of 1974. The law prohibits discrimination on the basis of age, race, religion, sex, and marital status, among other things.

“There are not as many community banks in neighborhoods of color, so they don’t have access to a local community banker,” Londagin says. “And then it is very clear that we have had discriminatory practices at every level — private level to government level — so Kiva wants us to help make amends for that.”

Once an application is approved, entrepreneurs are assigned a specific amount of funding they must crowdsource from local lenders on Kiva’s online platform. This serves as the business owner’s collateral, Londagin says. Business owners have two weeks to raise the designated amount of local funding and if they’re successful, they will then have access to nearly 2 million lenders worldwide. 

“Kiva’s a hand up, it’s not a hand out because our borrowers want to build business credit,” Londagin says. “They want to have proof that they have had a business loan and paid it off, and they can take that to a traditional lender later in the process.”

The Walton Family Foundation has provided $100,000 in matching funds so all borrowers with businesses in Washington or Benton counties will be eligible for a dollar for dollar matching loan if their Kiva loan request is approved.

When Sandra Carrasco and her sister Laura started Bites & Bowls in 2018, she says they had limited finances.

“When we went the traditional way, like banking, it didn’t work for us,” Carrasco says.

waffle topped with fruit
Photo courtesy of Bites & Bowls.

Instead, the women got a loan from their dad to start their business. The menu is developed in a way where they don’t have a full kitchen, which is one reason they offer sweet and savory waffles. The menu also includes other items like smoothies, salads and sandwiches.

When the Kiva NWA Hub opened, Sandra encouraged her sister to seek a $6,000 loan for equipment to help with efficiency during the lunchtime rush.

“There is no better financing opportunity because they have zero percent interest,” she says. “No one is going to do that anywhere else. If you go to a bank, if you use credit cards, you’re going to have high interest.”

The loan was funded in less than 24 hours. They received their funding in early 2020, which Sandra says helped them survive the early days of the pandemic. Overall, she says the loan application process was pretty easy and she would encourage other entrepreneurs considering the program to apply.

“It’s really a great opportunity to get funding and to tell your story,” she says.

Entrepreneurs interested in learning more about the Kiva NWA Hub can attend a free workshop from 6 to 7 p.m. July 22 at the Rogers-Lowell Area Chamber of Commerce, which is located at 317 W. Walnut St. in downtown Rogers. 

Additionally, Borrowers & Lenders parties are scheduled for July 29 at Big Box Karaoke in Fayetteville and Aug. 5 at Greenway Office Park in Bentonville. More information is available at www.kiva-nwa.org

Antoinette Grajeda
Antoinette Grajeda

Antoinette Grajeda is Editor-in-Chief of Arkansas Soul, the host of the Affirmative Action podcast and a Northwest Arkansas-based journalist. She has covered race, culture, politics, health, education and the arts in Arkansas for nearly 15 years.