Microenterprise Development Solution to Alleviate Poverty Utilizing Mobile Technology

Centro’s free Business Planning App is designed to empower underserved entrepreneurs to start/grow small businesses thru simple activities.

Photo of Arturo Noriega
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Eligibility

  • 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

Gender

  • Man

Where are you making a difference?

CA: Oakland - 94607, 94601
CA: Los Angeles - 91403, 90044, 90047, 92501, 90043
CA: San Jose - 95112
CA: Stockton - 95206
NY: New York - 11217
CO: Denver - 80219

Focus Areas (required)

  • Business & Social Enterprise
  • Development & Prosperity

Date Started

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)

Budget

  • $500k - $1m

Website or social media URL(s) (optional)

http://www.centrocommunity.org

Facebook URL

https://www.facebook.com/CentroCommunityPartners/

LinkedIn URL

https://www.linkedin.com/company/centro-community-partners

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 2011, Arturo Noriega, the founder of Centro, first saw the potential of creating an mobile app-enabled eco-system for smartphones that could encompass a platform that bring together business planning tools, entrepreneurship education, mentorship and access to capital so that anybody anywhere could access these resources for free. Arturo attended a technology conference at Stanford University when he saw how the global trends of the population, especially low-income people, would own a smartphone within 10 years. He could see that smartphones, and not computers would be next generation of learning and tech-enabling tools to help emerging women and minorities entrepreneurs in rural and urban communities start and grow their businesses.

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

Minority and women entrepreneurs are increasingly becoming important job creators in the US. However, they face greater hurdles in accessing entrepreneurship training and capital due to high costs and a fragmented industry that faces inefficiencies. If we are to help our communities grow, create jobs, and make progress in correcting income and wealth inequality, then we need to help minority and women entrepreneurs succeed.

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

Centro has an innovative solution to provide entrepreneurship training, mentorship and access to capital resources through a mobile app enterprise development eco-system available to millions of minority and women entrepreneurs who want to start a small business. The Centro App currently offers entrepreneurs a step-by-step self-paced learning tool to understand basic business concepts and write a business plan, and will soon offer:
1) Access to marketplace of vetted micro loans/equity tailored to meet their needs.
2) A platform to get advice from professional trainers.
The Centro App would be the first scalable microenterprise development ecosystem in the US that entrepreneurs can access using smart phones for free. We anticipate that our approach to deliver technical assistance (TA) services will significantly benefit rural and urban communities. Besides serving the needs of the entrepreneurs, the Centro App also serves as a platform for other organizations (such as micro lenders, non-profit trainers) to connect with underserved entrepreneurs who need such services. The Centro App will create a level field and remove access to barriers that hinder the growth of businesses owned

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

One specific example is Ayanna, a minority owner of HEAL Pilates Studio in the Bay Area. As a former athlete with no business experience, Ayanna had been a Pilates instructor for eight years and wanted to open her own studio. In 2014, Ayanna used the Centro App and participated in Centro’s workshops to refine her idea into a fundable business and sustainable business model. After going through the program, Ayanna opened her own studio and has secured $35,000 in microloans. Today, Ayanna is a proud owner of her business with three employees and raving reviews.

We use the Centro App to also build capacity for other non-profits to lower their cost of providing TA services (from a national average of $4,500/entrepreneur to Centro’s current cost of $750/entrepreneur) and scale their services to reach more entrepreneurs.

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?

The Centro App reaches underserved entrepreneurs in following ways:
1) Used as a learning tool in our programs.
2) We partner with TA service providers that need capacity building to make their programming more efficient.
3) We collaborate with community development financial institutions (CDFIs) that use the Centro App to create fundable business plans for their clients.
4) The entrepreneurs that use our App are mostly women that make less than $50K per year.

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

  • geography
  • immigration status
  • language
  • race/ethnicity
  • sexual orientation
  • gender
  • socio-economic class

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

While there are solutions (such as web-based Dreambuilder) that help entrepreneurs build their business plans, we haven’t found any that are specifically designed to help women, low-income people and minorities. Our App:
1) Offers entrepreneurs an all-inclusive platform where they can write business plans, access capital and mentorship services using smartphones.
2) Provides TA providers a platform to market their services to reach underserved entrepreneurs.
We haven’t seen any other organization that provides an all-inclusive scalable solution for entrepreneurs.

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

The Centro App has enabled us to reach entrepreneurs in 150 countries. We have helped over 3,000 entrepreneurs create their business plans and secured partnerships with 12+ organizations who are utilizing our App to deliver TA services in underserved communities in the US and abroad. As of June 2018, Centro has active partnerships in Stockton (CA), Los Angeles (CA), Oakland (CA), San Francisco (CA), New York (NY), Denver (CO) and Flagstaff (AZ), as well as international partnerships in Brazil, Colombia and Moldova. On an average, Centro serves 300-400 entrepreneurs annually. Last year, Centro served 326 underserved entrepreneurs in the US, via our partners and also did impact analysis (sample size 150). Our program participants reported: 82% reported increase in business revenue, 76% increased their savings, 84% decreased their expenses, and 16% accessed a micro-loan.

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

We have the following strategies to scale our impact:
1) Licensing: We are licensing the Centro App, combined with our curriculum and facilitator’s guide as a turnkey capacity building solution for other non-profit TA providers.
2) Partnerships: We are collaborating with organizations such as the National Association for Latino Community Asset Builders, Accion and Opportunity Finance Network who are interested to partner with us to expand support to more entrepreneurs.
3) Trainings: We offer a train-the-trainer program for organizations to provide TA services in underserved communities.

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

  • Franchising, Licensing, Accreditation
  • Large Scale Partnerships
  • Trainings, Consultation

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

Financial sustainability is at the core of our strategy and we are looking at the following:
Licensing fee: We will continue to charge a licensing fee to organizations interested in utilizing our tools (30% of our budget).
Referral fee: We will host a variety of microlenders (including CDFIs) on the Centro App who will pay a referral fee for each loan that is closed (40% of our budget).
Consulting fee: Capacity building services to governments and NGO organizations (30% of our budget).

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?

Centro has a diverse team of six well-educated full-time employees and three part-time employees, including experts in economic development, curriculum development, financial/program management and customer relations. Besides in-house talent, we also receive pro-bono services from mobile technology and human centered design experts from Google, Microsoft and Intuit. As we grow, we will hire development engineers. Our board also consists of experts from technology and financial sectors.

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

  • Hispanic, Latino/a, or Spanish origin (for example: Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuba, Salvadoran, Dominican, Colombian)

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

  • Communities of color
  • Low-income community

How did you hear about this challenge?

  • Social media

1 comment

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Photo of Brittany Corner

Great work so far!