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Taking Kiva on the road

As microloan program nears third anniversary, Kaitlin Byers wants the message to spread around the state

On March 22, the Fairfield Co-lab was especially crowded over the lunch hour. Local entrepreneurs had been gathering there for months for Traction Thursday, a new networking program for members of the Fairfield business community. Today, however, there was some extra buzz. 

Participants wanted to hear about Kiva Iowa. 

Kaitlin Byers of NewBoCo, who serves as Capital Access Manager for Kiva Iowa, came to Fairfield to spread the word about the microlending program. She did so at the invitation of Alex Taylor, Managing Director of Iowa Startup Accelerator Services. 

“Kiva is just one of the many accelerator services NewBoCo has, and we’re making an effort to share those services with communities across the state,” Alex says. “We’re putting a big focus on rural communities for economic development, because rural communities have a lot of underserved people that Kiva makes a natural fit for.

“The visibility of  NewBoCo across the state has raised a lot of interest,” he added. “People are coming to see what we’re doing. And they’re excited.” 

‘Impact has been tremendous’

Kaitlin says she couldn’t resist a chance to see for herself what was happening in Fairfield, a community with a large amount of entrepreneurs and startup businesses despite not being considered one of Iowa’s larger cities. 

“Alex is always just exuberant and full of life when he’s talking about Fairfield,” she says. “In that part of the state, it really seems like there’s a lot of momentum and excitement around entrepreneurship and innovation. Although we’re headquartered in Cedar Rapids, I find that I have some of the best conversations and the best connections when I’m actually out on the road.”

The timing for making those connections is perfect for Kiva Iowa at this point. The program officially launched out of Cedar Rapids almost three years ago, in June of 2021, with a funding campaign for AMIDST Magazine in Waterloo. Since then, Kiva Iowa has successfully funded 73 loans worth almost $500,000. 

WATCH: Kaitlin Byers speaks to an audience at Traction Thursday in Fairfield.

Kiva is an international crowdfunding loan platform that was founded in 2005 in San Francisco. Its mission is to “expand financial access to help underserved communities thrive,” through microloans as little as $25 per lender. The loans are ideal for investing in new equipment, expanding to a new location, or simply helping to get a new business off the ground. 

“Kiva’s impact has been tremendous,” Alex says. “There are people who, without Kiva, would never have been able to get started, because the barriers for entry for traditional loans are so much greater. Kiva provides enough flexibility for someone who might not qualify for a traditional loan, to get a cash infusion and be successful.” 

Since 2021, Kiva Iowa has successfully funded loans in 24 cities throughout the state. But Kaitlin wants those numbers to go higher. She points out that many people are still completely unaware of Kiva Iowa, not realizing what it is or how it could benefit their business. 

“It sort of spreads like wildfire once you hit a certain community or group of entrepreneurs, and then they tell their network of friends and other business owners,” she says. “So I would love to be able to kind of take a look at the entire state and see where we haven’t been able to make that happen.” 

One of those communities was Fairfield. 

“One of the most common questions startups have is funding, so it made sense that we would bring Kaitlin into the community and answer questions,” Alex says.

Starting conversations

Kaitlin gave a half-hour presentation about the Kia Iowa program. How to sign up. How it works. How loans get paid back. What a business needs in order to qualify. Then she stayed to answer questions. 

There were a lot of questions. 

“I would have liked to stay another two hours to have conversations with everyone there,” Kaitlin says. “I actually have had a number of people reach out and schedule time to chat. A couple individuals started an application. So that’s really exciting. It felt like there was a really wide range of people across different industries. People kept asking, ‘Is this for me?’ And it was always great to be able to confirm that Kiva is for everyone.”

Looking back on the experience – and looking ahead to Kiva Iowa’s upcoming 3-year anniversary – Kaitlin says it’s a constant reminder of why she loves what she does. 

“I’ve made a lot of wonderful new connections,” she says. “I’ve learned so much about not only new different types of businesses, but about different parts of the state, and about different experiences in the world of entrepreneurship. And it’s really opened my eyes to a lot of wonderful people.  I want them all to be super successful and take over the world. So that’s why I keep going every day.”To learn more about Kiva Iowa, visit Kiva Iowa | NewBoCo.

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