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Guest column: Rebuilding the economy one entrepreneur at a time

What if you’ve got a great idea, skill or talent, but don’t have financial resources, accessible training, support systems and confidence? Should you start a business?

The answer is most likely no, but what if all of those barriers went away? Could you start a successful business and, more importantly, what is the definition of a successful business? Does success have to be defined by a $100 million exit or can it be defined by the ability to cover your bills and put some extra in your pocket for a rainy day and your future?

The Rocky Mountain MicroFinance Institute (RMMFI) is a nonprofit redefining this picture of success for its clients and the Denver metro area. RMMFI supports individuals who have life and income barriers to build community businesses by helping them advance along the pathway to self-sufficiency and self-worth.

RMMFI’s core program, the Business Launch Boot Camp, is a 12-week intensive program focused on taking an entrepreneur from idea to launch. The Boot Camp runs three times a year and provides each entrepreneur eight weeks of business-planning support, four weeks of business launch support, and a micro-loan up to $2,500. Boot Camp clients enter into the Boot Camp pre-approved for a zero dollar loan. Through commitment and performance, each client earns his or her own loan dollars. To help Boot Campers reach the first milestone of success by launching their business, each receives a full support system, including: a business mentor, a financial mentor, an accountability coach, access to a network of business professionals and specialized workshops.

RMMFI’s Business Builder Loan Program supports both community entrepreneurs and Boot Camp graduates. The program offers loans from $250 to $2,500 with terms of 6-12 months and interest rates between 8-12 percent. RMMFI lends to entrepreneurs who cannot receive a loan from other traditional sources of financing due to their personal histories, credit histories or experience levels in their businesses. Clients can access multiple loans through the program and, over time, build a history of positive repayment to ensure a smooth transition to one of RMMFI’s next-stage lending partners. As of April 2012, RMMFI has provided 31 loans totaling more than $63,000.

The clients are the focus and center of the RMMFI model. Clients are people like Chelly Branham of Chelly’s Dazzling Jewelry. Chelly started her business journey with RMMFI while in the Women’s Bean Project program. Due to some previous life choices, Chelly is limited by her job options and chose to define her own path through business ownership. Chelly recently graduated from the Boot Camp and launched her business at the Mile High Marketplace. It was with pride and joy that she shared her first day’s profits of $700. Chelly’s business, like those of the other RMMFI graduates, is focused on immediate revenue generation to ensure the needed income to support her household.

Due to unemployment or underemployment, RMMFI clients are considered low-income and fall below the median income in their communities. They are typically afflicted by nagging credit histories and/or a life situation, which keeps them from obtaining the resources needed to thrive. It was with these clients in mind that RMMFI developed the Business Launch Boot Camp.

Neither the clients nor RMMFI could attain their vision of success if it wasn’t for the RMMFI Community. The RMMFI Community is made up of individuals, businesses, donors, foundations, nonprofits, academia and government that believe in the abilities of our clients and want to see them reach their vision of success. RMMFI Community members aren’t just financial resources; they provide time, talent and treasure to help RMMFI and its clients achieve their visions.

Along with Chelly, some of RMMFI’s recent Boot Camp graduates include: Rebecca Dolan of Radiant Gardens – a garden design and maintenance company; Marie Hahn of Open Lotus Acupuncture and Herbs – a holistic healing center focused on acupuncture and herbal remedies; Eneri Rodriguez of Maple Street Pie Co. – a local pie maker serving love on a plate; and Zak Hennessey of the DEAD Academy – a skill development-based entertainment and arts school. RMMFI’s Boot Camp graduates are boasting a 100 percent repayment rate on their loans.

Rob Smith is co-founder and executive director of the Rocky Mountain MicroFinance Institute. To learn more about RMMFI, or to join the RMMFI Community, visit www.rmmfi.org, call 720-941-5037 or email Rob at rob@rmmfi.org.


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