Over the past two years, the Intersect Fund has grown from an idea into fully functioning microenterprise development group. Our corps of student volunteers has helped over 30 low-income entrepreneurs in New Brunswick come closer to making their dreams of financial self-sufficiency a reality.
Thanks to the generous support from a variety of donors, word of the Intersect Fund is spreading throughout the New Brunswick community. Our business development course is booked weeks in advance and our most promising clients are working toward creating successful, self-sustaining community businesses.
It is now time to plan for our next big steps: Expanding the services we offer in New Brunswick while fostering a network of student-run microfinance groups based in urban campuses throughout the region.
We seek to raise $200,000 over the next eight months to accomplish these goals. This support will help us remain a source of valuable and innovative services to New Brunswick entrepreneurs while expanding the reach of microenterprise development throughout the nation.
Students at nearly a dozen colleges in the U.S. have started microenterprise development groups on their respective campuses. Like the Intersect Fund, these groups leverage the resources of universities — from borrowed office space to students’ technical savvy — to help low-income entrepreneurs. All of them do good work, but they face pervasive challenges. Raising funds, developing a working knowledge of a community, and training staff members are constant roadblocks to groups that could otherwise achieve success and scale.
We believe a formal, centralized network is the key to unlocking the potential of student-run microenterprise development. Through such an arrangement, students at various campuses could learn from one another, compare performance metrics, and receive standardized training in both adult education and business fundamentals.
Strengthening the relationship between these groups would carry tremendous benefits for both staff and clients, and the Intersect Fund is in the process of convening a summit of the highest performing student micro groups in an effort to forge a national network. We envision our national office becoming the nexus — appropriately located in the “Hub City” — of student-run social enterprise, coordinating the distribution of resources and providing necessary training and consulting services to student groups.
Strengthening Our Roots
Though we have hatched a formidable plan for expanding our influence, we are also beefing up our presence here in New Brunswick. We have embarked on a number of projects that will expand the suite of services we offer our clients while becoming a partner in their success.
In July of 2009, we began work on our first Entrepreneur Directory. This publication will feature two-dozen entrepreneurs in the New Brunswick area. It will detail not only the name and location of their businesses, but will illuminate the city’s small business landscape by offering insight into what motivates these entrepreneurs — where they came from, why they opened their businesses, and what motivates them to open up every morning. The Directory is a crucial step in connecting qualified entrepreneurs to the markets they seek to serve.
The needs of our clients grow as they expand their businesses, and we will continue to adapt by expanding our services. The Intersect Fund was conceived as an organization that would offer small loans to low-income entrepreneurs. We soon added business training to our roster of services to respond to a growing demand among the clients we served. As we began to serve more experienced business owners, we introduced one-on-one consulting services as well as assistance with graphic and web design. To increase the scope of our training while enhancing networking opportunities for our clients, we created business development centers, which function as mini-chambers of commerce. Entrepreneurs who have graduated from our training program gather for lessons from experts in fields such as accounting, insurance and tax law.
For clients who have completed our course and are ready to launch or grow their businesses, we offer small loans to cover the costs of expansion and working capital. Our one-one-one consulting and graphic design services help our entrepreneurs strategize and spread the word about their businesses.
Meeting the needs of the Market
To ensure the Intersect Fund remains a valuable resource to local entrepreneurs, we will continue to expand our services to meet our clients’ needs. We are exploring ways to help our clients acquire health insurance (which half of them lack at the moment). We also plan to develop a mobile system that will allow those of our clients who sell merchandise at a variety of locations to process credit card orders on the go.
We are also looking to increase our physical presence in the community. In 2010, we plant to acquire a retail space in downtown New Brunswick that will provide low-income entrepreneurs a point of access to markets while providing an enhanced training experience for our clients.