Access to Capital and Expertise for Emerging Entrepreneurs (ACE³)

ACE³ supports women and minority owned business enterprises while providing business students invaluable experience.

Photo of Sylvia
5 1

Written by


  • I am not an employee of BNY Mellon, or an immediate family member of a BNY Mellon employee
  • I am over 18 years of age
  • My organization is incorporated as a non-profit, for-profit, or hybrid organization, or I have a partner that is incorporated and could accept funds on my behalf
  • I have already piloted my initiative and have some initial evidence of impact
  • My organization is headquartered and creating impact in the United States


  • Man

Where are you making a difference?

Indiana: Evansville (47722)

Focus Areas (required)

  • Business & Social Enterprise
  • Development & Prosperity

Date Started

August 2013

Organization Type

  • nonprofit/NGO/citizen sector

Project Stage: Select the description below that best applies to your approach.

  • Growth (have moved past the very first activities; working towards the next level of expansion)


  • $50k - $100k

Website or social media URL(s) (optional)


1.Founding Story: Share a story about the "Aha!" moment that led the founder(s) to get started or the story of how you saw the potential for this to succeed.

In many communities, such as ours in Evansville, Indiana, minority populations are struggling. Those who have ideas and ambitions for their own business are less likely to have a loan approved based on where they live and/or lack of other resources/opportunities necessary to help them be successful. The Schroeder School of Business at the University of Evansville is producing high quality business students who are bright but they need hands-on, applied experiences. Aha! Our students can help. They can work with loan applicants as clients and help them evaluate their business plans. Our students can serve as a bridge to the banking sector and increase the chances of their clients’ application being approved for a small business loan.

2. The Problem: What problem are you helping to solve?

A zip code should never impact a person’s ability to dream big. Yet, for thousands in Evansville, Indiana, this is the reality. Research shows that residents from low-income neighborhoods have disproportionately fewer opportunities to thrive. Entrepreneurs from these areas also can have greater difficulty securing a loan to start up a small business. Their access to other resources that can help them be successful may also be limited.

3. Your Solution: How are you planning to solve this problem? Share your specific approach.

Access to Capital and Expertise for Emerging Entrepreneurs (ACE³) supports the launch and growth of minority and women owned business and small disadvantaged business entities in the Evansville area by providing consultation and loans up to $10,000. The program brings together UE students and faculty with financial executives and city leaders to benefit emerging entrepreneurs from underserved areas. The borrowers not only receive a loan, but also coaching and fresh perspectives on business strategies. Many clients have limited banking industry interactions. The ACE³ program looks to spread the understanding of financial principles in under-served community areas and strengthen the region’s business climate. Clients who are not funded receive valuable recommendations on how to develop their new business idea or streamline their existing business operation. For example, a client, who received a non-favorable funding decision, was directed to work with a marketing faculty member on re-thinking her sales and advertisement strategy. This is the type of innovative, collaborative program that helped earn the UE the designation as an Ashoka U Changemaker Campus.

4. Example: Please walk us through a specific example of how your solution is working to solve the problem.

A potential client may have been turned down for a small business loan or could be referred to ACE³ through the local Chamber of Commerce or Indiana Small Business Development Center (ISBDC). The client is paired with a junior or senior level student who is mentored by a business faculty member and other experts from the ISBDC. The student and client work together for an extended period of time (up to one full academic year) to review the proposed business plan and loan application. The student also serves as the underwriter for the loan. When the client is ready, a panel of students review the loan and make the funding decision.

5a. Too many people in the U.S. have unmet needs for financial products and services. How is your work reaching a population(s) that is currently underserved? If it is not reaching an underserved population yet, how might it in the near future?

Entrepreneurs from underserved populations are the sole recipients of ACE³ loans/consultations. The only purpose of this fund is to assist minority owned businesses – including women and those from other underserved populations.

5b. Please specify if the population you are reaching is underserved due to any of the following characteristics:

  • race/ethnicity
  • gender
  • socio-economic class

6. Marketplace: Who else is addressing the same problem? How does the proposed project differ from these approaches?

Financial institutions loan money to individuals and businesses, but many do not want to manage micro loans and very few offer the type of support and consultation the ACE³ program provides to clients. The ACE³ program is distinctive; our faculty have consulted with other universities who wish to replicate this program to benefit their communities. What really sets us apart is the level of support and guidance provided to each client. Our students help them fully develop their business plans.

7. Impact: How has your project made a difference so far?

“The ACE³ program turned things around at a time when I was really struggling. The process clarified my direction and goals, and the ongoing assistance and oversight have kept me on track. The students and professionals I've worked with have been insightful and supportive throughout the process.” ACE³ Client
The ACE³ program has involved 42 students who have consulted with 52 clients, reviewed their loan applications, and granted eight loans. UE students make a positive social impact and acquire personal and professional skills through daily interaction with real clients and businesses. In 2017, the ACE³ program was nominated to receive AACSB’s (Association for the Advancement of Collegiate Schools of Business) Innovations That Inspire Award. Our program has become a model that other universities wish to recreate. We welcome this opportunity to consult with other schools.

8a. Spread Strategies: Moving forward, what are the main strategies for scaling your impact?

The ACE³ program looks to expand its partnerships, enhance its impact, and continue to increase areas of engagement. In June 2016, the City of Evansville became one of 22 federally designated Promise Zones. ACE³ plans to partner with the City of Evansville to offer loans for aspiring entrepreneurs within the Evansville Promise Zone. In addition, ACE³ will work with Old National Bank to increase the availability of funding from $10,000 to $20,000 per loan which allows for a greater pool of clients and enhances the outreach of its program.

8b. If applicable, which of the following scaling strategies have you launched?

  • Organizational Growth
  • Trainings, Consultation

9. Financial Sustainability Plan: What is this solution’s plan to ensure financial sustainability?

The ACE³ program is now in its fifth year in partnership with Old National Bank. ONB provides the program with banking expertise, loan management tools, and a capital base of $100,000. The lending fund currently stands at $70,000 with outstanding balances on active loans at $30,000. Over the past five years, ACE³ has generated returns of $5,000 but more importantly it has financially supported eight businesses from underserved populations.

10. Team: What is the current composition of your team (types of roles, qualifications, full-time vs. part-time, board members, etc.), and how do you plan to evolve the team’s composition as the project grows?

The ACE³ team is made up of eight junior/senior level students enrolled in Institute for Banking and Finance courses for one academic year. They are aided by Dr. Yasser Alhenawi, associate professor of finance; Jeff Bone, vice president at Old National Bank; and two volunteers from the ISBDC. New students work with ACE³ clients each year and bring new energy to the project. The mentors are full-time professionals and retain their roles from year to year to give the program continuity.

Help Us Support Diversity! Part 1 - Which of the following categories do you identify with? (optional)

  • Middle Eastern or North African (for example: Lebanese, Iranian, Egyptian, Syrian, Moroccan, Algerian)

Help Us Support Diversity! Part 2 - Do you identify as part of any of the following underrepresented communities? (optional)

  • Communities of color
  • Religious minority (non-Christian)

How did you hear about this challenge?

  • Ashoka page or contact


Join the conversation:

Photo of Carr

This is a strong entry. I like the focus on developing the entrepreneurial eco-system for underserved communities in Evansville. I would love to learn more about the type of entrepreneurs you serve, and if within their business models, they are providing access to critical goods or services that are currently missing in their communities.

Photo of Sylvia

Thanks, Marc - We appreciate your endorsement, and our team leaders would be happy to share more about ACE3 clients/businesses as the process continues.

View all comments