Joe Johnson, Ph.D.
Entrepreneur. Investor. Startup Expert.

Kiva is well-known for offering loans to small businesses in third-world countries. As one of the first international providers of microloans, Kiva presented kind-hearted citizens a means of supporting others in their goals, whether they were starting a business, furthering their education, or bettering their life in some other way. More recently, Kiva has branched into U.S. lending with a focus on entrepreneurs.

What is Kiva U.S.?

For many small businesses, it can be difficult to secure approval for a conventional loan – especially if they’re new or need to borrow only a small amount. Thinking about it critically, it’s clear that typical banks – which are in the business of earning profits for their investors – don’t have much to gain by making these types of loans. Community banks and credit unions often fill the gap, however, these loans carry substantial interest charges and may require that an entrepreneur be in business for a particular amount of time.

Kiva U.S. provides small business owners with an alternative. U.S. entrepreneurs can utilize the platform to raise up to $10,000 – all of which is interest-free.

Just as with the microloans originated for individuals in third-world countries, Kiva U.S. loans are funded by users. The organization has cultivated a rich lender base interested in helping others and does not back loans itself. It simply provides a platform and a mechanism for lending by others.

For Whom is Kiva U.S. Intended?

To qualify for Kiva U.S., an entrepreneur must be at least 18 years old and living in the United States. Additionally, the loan must be earmarked for business purposes and cannot be used for anything illegal, multi-level marketing, or financial investing.

Borrowers must have a PayPal account (with an associated bank account) in order to receive funds via Kiva.

If you don’t yet have business credit, that’s OK. Unlike a traditional bank, Kiva doesn’t examine your financials. They judge a business’ creditworthiness solely by its online presence and ability to fundraise privately.

Entrepreneurs involved in bankruptcies or who have active liens against them are not permitted to borrow via the platform.

How to Apply for Kiva U.S.

In order to apply, entrepreneurs must fill out an online application. Applicants must specify the amount they wish to borrow ($500-$10,000) and designate how they intend to use the funds. Options include: buying equipment, hiring employees, marketing, remodeling/expansion, refinancing debt, purchasing inventory, and ‘other.’ Additionally, applicants must confirm that they meet the minimum requirements for the loan (U.S. residency, 18+ years of age, etc.) during this pre-qualification process.

During the application process, Kiva highlights their method of determining borrowing limits. The nonprofit has three ranges for borrowing: businesses with no online presence, that are pre-revenue, or which do not have a thorough loan description may only be eligible for loans of up to $1,000; entrepreneurs who have been in business for less than a year, have a “compelling” loan description, and who have a basic online presence may qualify for loans ranging from $2,000-$5,000; established businesses with a good online presence and strong references can borrow from $6,000-$10,000.

Once you’ve filled out the pre-qualification form, you’ll be taken to a longer application where personal details will be submitted. Your application must both justify your loan amount and relate a compelling story about your business and goals. You’ll also have to submit a photo of yourself in your place of business. Finally, you’ll be asked to share your business social media links.

A Kiva team member will then personally review your application in order to determine whether your business is a good match, your approved loan size, and the number of individuals you’ll need to address in the private fundraising round. To facilitate rendering this judgement, the Kiva team examines your submitted information and profile, as well as your website and social accounts. They may also suggest that you make a loan via their platform so that you understand the system from a lender’s perspective.

Once the application is complete, a Kiva team member will reach out to verify your application details, learn more about your endeavor, provide you with information regarding the amount for which you’ve been approved, and detail the remainder of the fundraising process.

If you remain interested in continuing, you’ll be tasked with running a private fundraising round in which you’ll try to raise money from your network. In order for your loan to be eligible for public fundraising, you must raise money from your network. The higher the loan value, the more you’ll be required to raise. Kiva highlights this both as a way to ensure that your business is legitimate and to prove your effective creditworthiness. Naturally, it also helps to spread the word about their program and to increase the number of lenders utilizing their system.

If you’re able to reach the initial social borrowing goal set by Kiva during the private fundraising round within 15 days, your loan will be moved to the public fundraising page where Kiva lenders from across the world will be able to see it.

The public fundraising round lasts 30 days and, like many other crowdfunding platforms, requires the active presence of the fundraiser in order to ensure success. Marketing and networking via social channels is extremely important to help promote awareness of your campaign.

Those whose campaigns are fully funded will receive their funds via PayPal 5-7 days after the campaign has ended. Repayment commences via PayPal one month after the disbursement date, though farmers can request a grace period. Campaigns which fail to reach their goals are not funded.

Alternatives

Kiva U.S. may be a useful tool for entrepreneurs with a large social base who need to raise a small amount of capital. It can take up to 45 days to fund a loan, however, so it’s not the quickest way for businesses with tight cash flow to generate capital. So far as I know, though, it is the only site which offers interest-free loans. Other types of financing, such as purchase order financing, invoice factoring, and loans made by traditional and nontraditional lenders are nearly always offered on an interest-bearing basis.

Kiva has been in the game for a long time, but they aren’t the only useful crowdfunding site. Competitors, such as Kickstarter, may require that users have a saleable prototype or meet other specific requirements. These crowdfunding sites don’t originate loans, per se, but they do require that funders be rewarded in some fashion, generally with merchandise.

If you’re curious as to whether Kiva U.S. may be a good fit for your company, take a look around the site and see who else is raising funds. You’ll find many small business owners trying to grow their businesses, as well as new entrepreneurs trying to make a start.

About the Author

Dr. Joe Johnson is an entrepreneur, investor, and startup expert. He is the founder and principal of GoodField Investments and the GoodField Foundation (www.GoodField.com).

Joe has a Ph.D. in Entrepreneurial Leadership and an MBA. He is the author of the upcoming book on The Science of Why Most Entrepreneurs Fail and Some Succeed.

Most importantly, he is the incredibly blessed husband of one amazing wife and father of six wonderful children. He resides in Bradenton, Florida. For more information on Dr. Johnson and his work, go to www.JoeJohnson.com.