Kiva Piloting Microlending For U.S. Small Biz, Clinton Says It’s ‘A Very Big Deal’

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Do you have a favorite coffee shop or dressmaker in your neighborhood? Now you can do a lot more than simply rave about your favorite local business to a friend: microloan giant, Kiva, is bringing crowdfunding to U.S. businesses. Normally reserved for struggling, developing-world entrepreneurs, Kiva is piloting a new project, called Zip, to allow small business owners to solicit micro-investments from their neighbors.

“This is a very big deal,” said President Bill Clinton, announcing the Zip pilot project in his hometown of Little Rock, Ark. “We have gotten ourselves in a situation now where the only people who can get real money are the people who don’t need to borrow it.”

Mass online investing has been an entrepreneurial dream for years, but political hangups at the Securities and Exchange Commission have delayed progress on so-called “crowdfunding”. To this day, there are still regulations about the number of investors a business can have and their minimum personal wealth.

Zip cleverly skirts regulation: “Kiva is a nonprofit and makes no money from the loans we facilitate, instead we depend upon optional donations,” explains co-founder Premal Shah. “Kiva lenders make no money from the money they lend, they only expect the money they put in as a loan to be paid back. Because of this model Kiva’s crowdfunding platform falls outside of SEC rules.”

Lending money, regardless of regulation, so Kiva requires that small businesses have the confidence of a “Trustee,” on organizations or individuals who vouch for the credibility of the borrowers. Trustees function like any other noteworthy investor in a startup, but in a more public way that permits the masses to invest confidently without an elite network of established investors.

To give microlending some viral flare, “When borrowers successfully repay their loan, they too can become Trustees and endorse other small business owners in their community.” Ideally, success begets more success, facilitating a cascade of local consumption and investing.

Zip caters especially to local businesses with a social good edge. At Old Skool Cafe, at-risk youth serve piping hot Java, to give them a better future outside the prison system. Mandela Foods Cooperative specializes in cooking up healthy desserts.

Loans start out as low as $25. You can check out Kiva’s pilot project here.