Thursday, January 03, 2008

IntoPittsburgh Venture Capital

A fellow blogger was inspired by a recent episode of Frontline/World about the micro-lending adventures of Kiva. I don't have permission to reveal the identity of the author of the idea, but the following is a snippet of the e-mail message (appropriately titled "kivaburgh?"):

I'm wondering, do you know of anything being done to create a Kiva-like program for the 'Burgh? ( i.e., members of the diaspora investing in East Liberty or the Hill District). I know Mark DeSantis was talking about creating a micro-loan program (whether or not he was elected), but I'm not sure if he was thinking about a diapora-focused approach.

Digging into the Google cache file for the Mark DeSantis for Mayor of Pittsburgh website, you can see mention of the "micro-lending" plan:

1) DeSantis will establish a micro-lending program and minority entrepreneur centers in city neighborhoods, where participants will be provided the opportunity to receive training, attend workshops and raise startup capital and micro loans for their businesses.

2) DeSantis will implement the lending program and entrepreneur centers through the Pittsburgh Minority Economic Development Partnership.

3.) This partnership will consist of corporations, non-profits, and foundations to start and fund the Pittsburgh Minority Economic Development Partnership. It will be modeled after the Philadelphia Development Partnership.

4.) Similar to the Philadelphia model, this program will contain a peer group lending and counseling program. Entrepreneurs can become members of peer groups with other minority and micro business owners. Those groups will provide peer counseling services to all group members.

5.) Peer groups will also oversee a micro loan program, with peer group members eligible to apply for loans from $500 to $5000 through the partnership’s capital fund. Individual members make loan requests through their peer group and the group as a whole decides whether or not to approve a loan.

6.) Finally, the Partnership will also have a Small Business Loan Program which will provide loans ranging from $5,000 to $25,000. This program will be available to entrepreneurs regardless of whether they are participating in a peer group. However, unlike the peer loan program, these loans will require a credit check and collateral, with loan decisions made by a Partnership business development consultant.

7.) In all, the Pittsburgh Minority Economic Development Partnership will provide the following:
Access to capital
Business skills training
Technology training
Internet strategy workshops
Business seminars
Business counseling
Mentoring & Networking opportunities

Kiva demonstrates that you don't need to be mayor to implement a micro-financing scheme. The funding could come from members of the Burgh Diaspora, who might be interested in providing loans to start-ups in their old neighborhood. Frontline/World interviewed a woman who lived in Kenya and asked her motivation to loan money through Kiva:

A big motivation for me is that, with Kiva, the money goes directly to the people. There’s no middleman. I’ve lived there [in Kenya]; I know the country. I don’t go back as often as I should, but I still can tell Antonio: “You know, this definitely makes sense,” or “I can see why people from this region are asking for loans.”

In this case we can see distance-trust in action. Kiva also highlights the inefficiencies of the Silicon Valley model for funding start-ups. International remittances have long followed familial networks and now Kiva is revealing the potential of innovations in social software. I've been toying with versions of this idea for the Burgh Diaspora and 2008 is a year for action. Paging Mark DeSantis...


Mark Rauterkus said...

Kiva, I once heard, was going to do a US version. I have talked about this in the past with various people in a one-on-one way.

Kiva is very good.

I proposed that the bloggers do a fund-raiser and raise money for KIVA. They didn't choose that as a target, sadly.

A Kiva Burgh would be great.

Let's get with the TalkShoe folks and hold a 24-hour talk-a-thon on the idea. I'll do an hour.

joe said...

There's another part of the equation that I discussed in an earlier e-mail exchange with Jim, and it concerns the mechanism of reconnecting with the diaspora for this type of effort.

My high school graduating class created our own social networking site using the Ning platform ( to begin planning our 20th reunion (taking the lead from the class ahead of us). It has been a huge success. Our class was 550 people, and in just one month we have reconnected with 180 (about half living locally still, the others spread out in 25+ states).

We're using the site to plan our reunion (and have fun remembering old times and being a little goofy), but we're also aware of our collective ability to do some good.

Also, as Jim mentioned in an e-mail, the co-founder of Kiva is a '96 grad of North we've got that going for us.