By Janelle O'Dea The Bradenton Herald.
One east Bradenton mother's longtime small business dream came true after more than 150 people from 15 countries gave her zero-interest small loans to get started. Her mentors hope the success can inspire others.
Belinda Waiters opened her own daycare facility, Laugh N Learn Academy, on May 8 after finding support through a Kiva Zip loan.
Kiva Zip loans use crowd-sourcing -- obtaining funds from multiple people through the Internet -- to find support for small business entrepreneurs. Waiters discovered Kiva Zip through her mentors at Suncoast Community Capital, where she was enrolled in the Build-A-Business entrepreneurship training program.
Kiva Zip users are people in communities around the world who like to see others making a difference. When Kiva Zip lenders see inspiring innovations or ideas they want to support, Kiva Zip gives them the opportunity to financially contribute with what the nonprofit calls a "microloan." The entrepreneurs pay back the microloans and provide updates about the small business. The contributors can then use the funds paid back to support another entrepreneur.
Family and friends must first loan to a Kiva Zip entrepreneur to prove credit worthiness.
After operating a home-based daycare service for four years, Waiters said her own ambition and a friend's final push made her go for it. She was already taking steps to open Laugh N Learn at 5233 4th Ave. Cir. E. when she enrolled in SCC's program after a cousin suggested she take the course.
Running a daycare business fits Waiters because she likes being home in the afternoon with her own seven children, aged 1 to 19, and she comes from a big family, so she has come to love taking care of kids. She has wanted to expand beyond the walls of her home for a while.
"I knew in my mind I wanted to expand to a center and I wasn't going to give that dream up," Waiters said.
Like many other small business owners, Waiters was concerned about the money she needed to start up.
"When I first opened the business I was lacking for funds and I am still lacking funds, but (the Kiva Zip loan) took care of pre-existing bills I had -- like the fence alone was $5,000."
Waiters also had to install concrete bollards required by the state of Florida and she had the fence built to enclose a playground area. Mulch for the property cost her $1,000 and the playground equipment was another $1,000. Waiters estimates she's invested about $30,000 through family contributions and a private investor she's repaying.
Waiters is lucky to have one essential part of her business taken care of by her husband. The two were married seven months ago and he is a certified chef who prepares all of the meals for Laugh N Learn children.
"Everything is fresh and he's here all day," Waiters said.
She can now accept up to 44 children at Laugh N Learn, and she's currently at half capacity. Her age limit is six weeks to 5 years old, but soon she'll have the proper licensure to care for kids 6 weeks old to 12 years old.
Before she began her own daycare business, Waiters dropped out of high school. She returned at age 26 and earned a GED followed by two years of college classes. On Waiters' Kiva Zip page, she explains her tough situation even after succeeding in school.
"At that time it was a struggle, working two full-time jobs while raising my children," she writes. The Kiva Zip loan provided financing for Waiters' business and took away one barrier that often keeps entrepreneurs from embarking on new opportunities. Carolyn Griffin, a small business expert for SCC, helped Belinda build her case for the Kiva Zip loan.
"This meant planning for permitting and licensing, equipment needs and personnel," Griffin said in an SCC release. "Opening a business is exciting this crowd-funding, financing source truly expands the possibilities for local entrepreneurs and building our local economy."
SCC is the Kiva Zip trustee for the suncoast region. If SCC can enlist two other success stories like Waiters' they can offer the program to other local entrepreneurs.
Kiva Zip is a nonprofit and hopes to help fulfill dreams like Waiters'.
"We've heard from many people who thought they could never open a business because they didn't have the credit or the capital," Justin Renfro, Kiva Zip program manager said in the release. "Now they have the opportunity to reach investors globally."