ASU students organize nonprofit to help struggling entrepreneurs

A team of ASU students wants to help small local business owners get a leg up in the world. They are teaching a four-week course on the basics of running a successful business at the Escalante Community Center in Tempe, and they’ll even provide individual counseling and loans to nontraditional clients. 

Hannah Wasserman and Danica Harvey are two of the 11 students on the staff of Arizona Microcredit Initiative (AMI), a nonprofit group that provides coaching, small-scale loans and other financial services to entrepreneurs who do not have access to traditional sources of credit. 

“We’re really passionate about what we’re doing,” says Harvey, a senior in economics and Chinese. “This promotes the development of strong businesses and creates jobs. It strengthens the culture of individual neighborhoods. This is a population that gets overlooked, yet they create local businesses that meet the needs of communities.”

The need is great for such a service, says Harvey, since the poverty rate in Phoenix has grown at six times the national average in the past decade. Yet the entrepreneurial spirit is thriving in Arizona, a state with almost 390,000 single-employee organizations and 108,000 small employers. 

AMI will provide initial loans of about $1,500 to nontraditional borrowers such as low-income individuals who want to purchase equipment to pursue self-employment, single mothers with a good idea, or refugee populations that struggle with English. Clients are asked to take the four-week entrepreneurship development course and write a business plan, working one on one with a student.

“We want to make an impact on people, not just provide financial support,” says Wasserman, a senior in economics and statistics. “We’ll teach them about cash flow, how to manage finances and market to a target audience. We hope to develop a relationship with our clients, and continue to consult with them afterward.” 

AMI received a $4,000 grant last May from ASU’s Edson Student Entrepreneur Initiative, a program that awards funding to student startups. They also just received a grant from the Arizona Community Action Association, and they recruited clients at a luncheon held in late January for leaders of community organizations.

An economics professor in the W.P. Carey School of Business arranged for AMI members to teach a trial entrepreneurship development course last semester at St. Vincent de Paul’s job development center. They also get assistance from faculty advisors from the Department of Accountancy. 

“At ASU we have all the resources, networking opportunities and meeting space, and professors who want to help,” says Harvey. 

The 11 students are volunteers, most of whom attend the Carey School, although Wasserman and Harvey are in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. They also are enrolled in Barrett, The Honors College, and are doing their honors theses on the social impact of microcredit. 

AMI was initially created by an ASU graduate, Eric McKay, and two friends who attend Yale. New volunteers apply and are selected each semester. 

Now that the organization has been incorporated and is up and running, Harvey and Wasserman are confident it will continue after they graduate.