ASU student-led organization helps entrepreneurs start, expand ventures

The Arizona Microcredit Initiative has been assisting underserved entrepreneurs since 2011


Photo of Kiran Ramakumar

Kiran Ramakumar is Arizona Microcredit Initiative executive director and a junior studying supply chain management and business data analytics. Photo courtesy of Kiran Ramakumar

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The Arizona Microcredit Initiative, a student organization in Barrett, The Honors College at Arizona State University, is entering its 11th year as a nonprofit assisting underserved entrepreneurs to start or expand their ventures through consulting services, microloans and business instruction.

The initative, which also is a student organization in the W. P. Carey School of Business, was established in 2011 by three honors students after they won $4,000 from the ASU Edson Student Entrepreneur Initiative.

The initative was originally modeled after an organization called Elmseed at Yale University and focused strictly on microlending. In 2012, the organization expanded to eight members and received 501(c)(3) nonprofit status. That same year, the initative won a $50,000 grant from the Pakis Foundation and began workshops for the local small-business community.

The organization’s vision statement sums up its reason for being: "AMI was created with the vision of an Arizona where neither a challenging background nor lack of resources can stand in the way of a passionate, entrepreneurial spirit. As a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, we are dedicated to that original vision by providing underserved entrepreneurs with access to business instruction and capital."

Over the years since it was founded, the initative has continually grown, received funding and innovated to provide services throughout the greater Phoenix area.

“The passion the staff has for the community and our mission is the secret behind our successful operations. In addition, our alumni stay very involved with the organization and continue to provide support and advice for the current organization leaders,” said Kiran Ramakumar, Arizona Microcredit Initiative executive director and a junior in Barrett, The Honors College studying supply chain management and business data analytics.

Monet Tam, a senior honors college student who like Ramakumar is studying supply chain management and business data analytics, said the initiative is unique in that it is a student-driven initiative that provides free consulting services and business instruction for more than 40 topics, in addition to low-interest rate loans.

The organization supports entrepreneurs in three main areas: loans, consulting and education.

Photo of Monet Tam

Monet Tam, a senior studying supply chain management and business data analytics, is an AMI staff member. Photo courtesy of Monet Tam

Loans to small businesses

The Arizona Microcredit Initiative offers microloans up to $5,000 to local, underserved entrepreneurs. With competitive interest rates tailored to applicants, these loans allow clients to expand their businesses.

The organization’s Phase I loan is ideal for anyone with a great business idea, entrepreneurial spirit and plan for allocating funds. The loan offers up to $1,000 with a 7% interest compounded annually and a credit score not required to apply.

The iniative's Phase II loan is designed for the entrepreneur with an existing small business who is looking to purchase new equipment or supplies to aid expansion. This loan can be from $1,001 to $5,000 with a 5% interest rate compounded annually, and business records are required to apply.

Business consulting

Local businesses in any phase, from startup to an existing enterprise, can receive one-on-one consulting. Consulting capabilities include product development, pricing strategy, advertising, sales promotion, loans/funding and web development. Consulting services are free.

The initiative develops a team centered around clients’ needs and works directly with them to improve strategy and address business challenges.

“As students, this is an incredible experiential learning opportunity since we work hands-on with real clients,” said Zain Sidhwa, Arizona Microcredit Initiative director of operations.

Business education

The initiative created three playbooks to equip and guide small-business owners. The organization also offers 40 educational blog posts with each topic focused on key business questions and solutions that have worked for entrepreneurs and small-business owners in the past.

The Arizona Microcredit Initiative works with city-affiliated partners, entrepreneurial support partners and financial partners. 

Its partners include the Gilbert Sun News, Gilbert Chamber of Commerce, city of Scottsdale Economic Development Department, the city of Tolleson, FABRIC, ASU Changemaker Central, Local First Arizona, SEED SPOT and Kiva.

One of the initiative's most recent clients is HerRights, a nonprofit organization dedicated to ending gender violence and facilitating social justice through empowerment tools.

Tanu Ghosh founded HerRights after a much publicized December 2012 brutal assault of a woman in Delhi.

Ghosh, who said she “realized that the gender issues need to be solved systematically and the root causes are the same, and the solutions need to be similar, no matter where you are,” approached the Arizona Microcredit Initiative to help build and expand her organization. 

“AMI was beyond helpful for a small, starting nonprofit like ours,” she said. “They are like guiding stars who will do the research for you, which a small, zero-overhead organization did not have bandwidth to do. They didn’t stop there — on everything from mission statement, organization design to generating passive revenue to intern postings — they hand-held us through working sessions to get the actual changes made — all for free. Their material was always high quality, accurate and targeted.”

The Arizona Microcredit Initiative has helped HerRights structure its organization, identify and set up fundraising channels and implement passive-income opportunities. With support from the initiative, HerRights is looking to expand its impact through research, development workshops, facilitation resources and more within the Phoenix area and abroad.

“Given that AMI is now moving into its second decade of service, the organization is looking to continue the impactful client work, increase our visibility in the Phoenix area and continue to grow the impact of the organization,” Ramakumar said.

“Our motto is to ‘Take the Initiative,’ and we instill that in every member to find opportunities to grow the reach of the organization while making tangible contributions to our clients and the community. We hope to continue a tradition of providing high-achieving ASU students the opportunity to give back, learn great skills and then go out into the world and make a difference.” 

Students can apply to join the Arizona Microcredit Initiative. Businesses interested in obtaining services can connect at www.azmicrocredit.org/contact.

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