Access to Capital and Expertise for Emerging Entrepreneurs (ACE³)

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

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  • 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 from Schroeder students and faculty. Many clients have limited banking industry interactions. The ACE³ program looks to spread the understanding of financial principles in underserved 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 UE's 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. The businesses funded to date include lawn care, yoga studio, child care, bistro, bakery, discount gift cards and Uncharted Global Missions. The support and loan provided to these business owners not only benefits them but also their local community.

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?

ACE³ was created to support women and minority business enterprises. The program integrates emerging entrepreneurs for underserved populations with business students, faculty, financial executives and city leaders. Our students build professional relationships with the clients offering advice, coaching and inspiration. The only purpose of this fund/program is to assist minority owned businesses and start-ups.

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 program provides the expertise and capital to launch new businesses which positively impact the individual business owners and the greater community.

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?

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. Finally to support transferability to other universities, we plan to produce a peer reviewed journal article on our ACE³ program's success.

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 students enrolled (six credit hours) 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 mentors from the ISBDC. New students work with ACE³ clients each year and bring new energy to the program. 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

Organization name

Access to Capital and Expertise for Emerging Entrepreneurs (ACE³), Schroeder School of Business at the University of Evansville

Program Design Clarity

Clients meet with ACE³ students face to face on campus 1 – 2 hours per week. Some clients develop their professional business plans and complete the loan application in as little as two months, others can take 8 months. Support with marketing and accounting activities are also made available to the clients. All services are delivered by UE students.

Approach to financial wellbeing: does your project focus on creating financial wellbeing through innovating on any of the following?

  • education / literacy
  • entrepreneurship
  • loans

Innovation type: Please select which of the following types of innovation best characterize your work

  • Institutional innovation (Creation or changes in organizational structures, the setting up of new types of financial intermediaries, or to changes in the legal and supervisory framework)

Partnerships in detail: tell us about your partnerships that enhance your approach.

The Schroeder School leverages two close relationships with Old National Bank (ONB) and Southwestern Indiana Small Business Development Center (ISBDC). ONB, Indiana's largest bank, provides financial expertise, loan management tools, and a capital base of $100,000. ISBDC provides two business experts, who mentor students throughout the loan application process. Other community partners refer potential clients to our program.

If you won the Unlocking ₵hange Challenge, how would you invest the prize money of $50,000?

The majority would be allocated for ACE³ expansion (i.e. Evansville's Promise Zone) and transferability to other universities (i.e. ACE³ peer reviewed journal article). Additional support would be used for marketing and connecting to potential clients.

Awards & Recognitions: What awards or recognitions has the project received?

Nomination for AASCB's 2017 Innovations That Inspire Award in the Emerging a Diverse Community Category. This award recognizes schools worldwide who champion change in business education - expanding their reach into their communities and the world. 2018 MidAmerican Business Deans Association Innovation in Business Education Award (currently under consideration).

Evaluation results

2 evaluations so far

1. Overall, would you champion this entry as a excellent example to move forward to the next phase of the challenge and become a semifinalist?

Yes, absolutely! - 50%

Yes/maybe - 0%

Maybe - 50%

Maybe/no - 0%

No - 0%

2. Is this entry INNOVATIVE?

Yes, absolutely! - 50%

Yes/maybe - 50%

Maybe - 0%

Maybe/no - 0%

No - 0%

3. Is this entry IMPACTFUL on financial wellbeing?

Yes, absolutely! - 100%

Yes/maybe - 0%

Maybe - 0%

Maybe/no - 0%

No - 0%

4. Is this entry SUSTAINABLE?

Yes, absolutely! - 50%

Yes/maybe - 0%

Maybe - 0%

Maybe/no - 50%

No - 0%

5. What are some of the HIGHLIGHTS of strengths of this entry?

Connection to underserved community - 100%

Clarity of Model - 0%

Clarity of Writing - 0%

Idea Originality - 0%

Understanding of the marketplace or sector - 50%

Impact measurement - 50%

Impact Potential - 100%

Financial Sustainability - 50%

Team - 50%

Partnerships - 0%

Potential to scale - 50%

6. What are some of the areas for IMPROVEMENT of this entry?

Connection to underserved community - 0%

Clarity of Model - 0%

Clarity of Writing - 100%

Idea Originality - 100%

Understanding of the marketplace or sector - 0%

Impact measurement - 0%

Impact Potential - 0%

Financial Sustainability - 0%

Team - 0%

Partnerships - 0%

Potential to scale - 0%


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