On Friday, October 6th, the Westside Future Fund (WFF) hosted its 19th Transform Westside Summit of 2017. Our featured presenters were Donte Miller and Nathan Jones, co-founders of Village Micro Fund (VMF) – an organization founded to provide microfinancing for local, small businesses on the Westside.
In 2013, Miller and Jones were business students at Morehouse College, both competing for a coveted Goldman Sachs internship. As luck would have it, neither was accepted into the program. This “failure,” however, inspired them to evaluate the exclusive nature of investment financing capital through a new lens.
“What would it look like if people who needed these services the most, actually got them?”
It was Donte’s grandmother, a gifted cook with a 5th grade education and a dream to share her food with the people she knew and loved, who served as an inspiration for the Village Micro Fund. Despite having the passion and talent, no financial institution would give her a loan, labeling her a high-risk investment. Miller asked, “How different would her life have looked, how different would my life have looked, how different would our whole community have looked with some financial support?”
“Where are the grown-ups?”
In 2014, Miller and Jones announced their intention to start a bank, an idea that quickly evolved into a microfund. Their first client, Keitra Bates of Marddy’s Bakery, was excited to come on board. She joked that she was the only “grown-up” in the room, as the two young men drew new boundaries outside of the traditional venture capital model.
Traditional venture capital (money invested in established companies looking to fund growth) differs considerably from micro venture capital, which consists of smaller seed investments in companies that have yet to gain traction.
VMF provided Bates with accounting services, helped her network, and once her business plan was shored up, hosted a fundraiser on her behalf. In 2015, VMF provided its first small business loan – which Bates was able to pay back in full! The test was a success; it was time to scale up.
“Village of support”
In 2016, the first small business “cohort” was assembled. The goal: ensure that each business was not only attractive to investors, but told a story and enriched the community.
“The beauty of micro funding is that it allows for a self-directed community through cooperative financing,” said Miller. “In this way, funders (and patrons) start to view local businesses as a ‘portfolio of investments’ that build wealth for their entire community. This wealth building then spills over into accelerating growth of wraparound amenities, which further enhance the community, such as increased safety, access to education, and walkable neighborhoods.”
To illustrate the impact of the Village Micro Fund, Miller and Jones introduced four of its program “all stars.”
- JR Murphy, Westside’s resident beekeeper and founder of Joy and Reflect Gardens: Murphy participated in the 2015 cohort. Although successful upon completing the program, two of JR’s beehives were recently lost due to chemical spraying on a neighboring property. VMF is helping him raise money not only to replace the affected hives, but to build a greenhouse so that he can propagate honeybee-friendly plants throughout the winter and plant them next spring.
- Mbai Njai, creator of Legal Equalizer: Njai shared the inspiration for his mobile app, the Legal Equalizer. After being handcuffed and detained for more than 30 minutes during a routine traffic stop, the idea for Legal Equalizer was born. The app has a variety of features, including sending alerts to your emergency contacts, recording GPS location and video of law enforcement encounters and connecting users with attorneys in real-time.
- Cayana Mackey, PartyBecause ATL: Mackey started Party Because ATL – a team of event planners creating unique events and experiences on behalf of social impact organizations – to provide fun, engaging events connecting young professionals to local needs. As she puts it, millennials want to get involved but don’t always know where to turn. Her motto is “get them with a party, keep them with a cause.”
- Harriet Williams, The Tubman Group: According to Williams, “only 1 out of 4 Americans pursue their passion.” For Williams, this was unacceptable. Her unwillingness to accept this dire statistic led her to found the Tubman Group, a boutique consulting group with the mission to help entrepreneurs and small businesses connect with their dreams. Her inspiration came after helping her sister take her dream of owning a bakery from part-time hobby to full-time career. As Williams put it – this one stop shop takes aspiring entrepreneurs and “sets them free.”
For more information on the Village Micro Fund, including current investment opportunities, visit VMF.GOENTREPID.COM
To register for our October 20 Transform Westside Summit, click here.