Lending for Evanston and Northwestern Development, a non-profit student group, launched a campaign to finance entrepreneurs in the Evanston community on Monday. The campaign, Invest Evanston, will use donations from Northwestern students to fund low-interest loans for small business owners.
In the next two weeks, Invest Evanston hopes to raise at least $5,000, according to co-founder Sahil Mehta, a McCormick junior. They will have tables in Norris and at the Technological Institute, and they are partnering with local establishments such as Andy’s Frozen Custard and Beck’s Books to offer incentives for those who participate in the campaign.
Students in LEND developed the idea for the campaign after a meeting with the Evanston Black Business Alliance, when they learned that contractors faced difficulties receiving financial services and were thus limited in the contracts they could fill.
“We saw a need for us to up our operations to help these people,” Mehta said. “We have the proper training program. We have the proper loaning program. We just needed to up our capital and up awareness.”
LEND offers microfinance opportunities to entrepreneurs who cannot secure other loans. This allows the business community to grow without forcing business owners to resort to loan shops, which offer loans at a very high interest, Mehta said.
The group offers business training and maintains close relationships with clients, according to Mehta.
“That community building aspect makes us unique from a bank or a loan shop,” he said.
So far, Mehta is confident in Invest Evanston’s ability to capture student interest. They are advertising through both social media and traditional routes such as posting flyers around campus.
“A lot of people know what we’re planning to do, so it shouldn’t be a huge problem to build up momentum,” he said.
Mehta stressed the importance of microfinance as a means of promoting growth in Evanston. He said the money raised through Invest Evanston has the potential to help local entrepreneurs for years to come.
“Microfinance is very different from charity,” he said. “It’s an empowering tool for access to financial resources. The money that’s donated, in the next three years, that can be cycled through many entrepreneurs. It has the potential to have impact for decades.”