Entrepreneurial empowerment programs to transform hustles into livelihoods

Fund 17 is a nonprofit that provides the tools, resources and community support necessary to turn hard work into a sustainable livelihood

Photo of Haley Burns
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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


  • Woman

Where are you making a difference?

Louisiana: New Orleans (all zip codes, office located in zip code 70119)

Focus Areas (required)

  • Business & Social Enterprise
  • Development & Prosperity

Date Started


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)


  • $100k - $250k

Website or social media URL(s) (optional)


Twitter URL


Facebook URL


LinkedIn URL


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.

After years of inspiration from microfinance organizations like Grameen Bank and Kiva, our founder moved to New Orleans to study International Development at Tulane University. During her first semester, a public health surveying project took her to the the Hollygrove neighborhood and exposed her to the visible inequality that exists in the city. These short trips from her wealthy university bubble, combined with her studies in poverty alleviation and microfinance, sparked the initial idea to begin applying international microfinance models at home. Shortly after, she landed a summer fellowship with Lend for America and gained immersive, intensive training from a variety of financial inclusion experts to prepare for the founding of Fund 17.

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

Despite our city’s high entrepreneurial rates, it is often cited that only 2% of city revenues go towards minority-owned firms. Furthermore, as efforts expand to support entrepreneurial talent in New Orleans, native New Orleanians and community members of color are far too often left out of the picture. At the heart of Fund 17’s mission is to make entrepreneurship accessible to all hardworking New Orleanians.

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

We believe by equipping entrepreneurs with an arsenal of skills and resources, we can build capacity within the informal economy, help transition entrepreneurs’ hard work into sustainable livelihoods, and ultimately take down economic inequality in New Orleans. Our accessible approach breaks down barriers to entering the entrepreneurial ecosystem through targeted outreach, flexible assistance for busy and overwhelmed entrepreneurs and goal-based action plans tailored to the needs and dreams of each individual. Our programs include 1-on-1 support on meeting business goals, loan advising, financial planning and personal finance training. Entrepreneurs often come into our office confused on where to start and leave with new skills and tangible outputs like a completed permit application or a social media website. We also offer a cohort-based Accelerator program, community potlucks and workshops and soon will be opening a Community Business Incubator to further our impact through credit-building memberships and technology access. Entrepreneurs who complete key programs access Community Benefits like retail market access, partner referrals, promotional opportunities and more.

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

We recently saw an engaged entrepreneur take the leap of faith necessary in pursuing her business full-time and it is now flourishing. This entrepreneur owns a balloon decor business. She was juggling a full-time job, parenting and growing her business when she began attending our workshops. As a resident of the Gentilly neighborhood, she heard about us through our targeted outreach to residents of under-invested areas. Although she had never participated in small business training, she was eager to build skills and get the necessary support. She eventually joined our fall 2017 cohort, which helped her create contracts, assess market opportunities and plan for growth. She now continues to attend workshops as a way to learn and stay engaged in our community. As of April, her business had grown so much she was able to leave her job and support herself through her successful venture.

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?

We serve informal entrepreneurs, entrepreneurs of color and native New Orleanians. Our community research identifies, maps and assesses the needs of entrepreneurs running informal businesses from their homes. These “invisible enterprises” are both common and severely underserved in New Orleans. We increase the visibility of these community members, empower their entrepreneurial identity and provide financial access, business support and partnership.

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

  • immigration status
  • race/ethnicity
  • socio-economic class
  • other (please specify on question 5a)

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

Although many US cities have variations of small business development organizations and microfinance organizations, we are unique in both the particular market we serve and in our informed and effective approach. Inspired by Microfinance models abroad, our focus on informal businesses ensures we are connecting with entrepreneurs often left out of the conversation in the states. We hope to amplify the dialogue on "side hustles", informal businesses and home-based enterprise. Our approach is designed for these entrepreneurs: flexible, relationship-based and goal-based for accessible assistance.

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

Since our transition from a student-run nonprofit to a full-time community organization in summer 2015, we have served nearly 200 New Orleanians through business support, loan advising and community workshops. This includes hundreds of hours of 1-on-1 advising resulting in dozens of legal business filings, completed business plans, effective websites and social media pages, organized financials and more. These outputs are the foundation for our key impact: increased revenues and incomes. Entrepreneurs graduating from our cohorts access loans from our partners at Kiva, experience increased exposure and ultimately see increased revenues for their business.

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

Our focus is on improved program models to more effectively move entrepreneurs from informal, hustle stage to formal, full-time business owner. A key aspect of this new program model is improved effort around capital access and financial education. We will be hiring a Capital Access Coordinator, launching a Capital Ready program (1-on-1 financial planning and training), and scaling Kiva's reach in New Orleans. Increased staff and improved program systems will allow us to double our numbers in the coming year. We will publish reports to encourage replication of our model in other cities.

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

  • Organizational Growth
  • Large Scale Partnerships
  • Other

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

Currently we are funded by foundations and individual donors and will continue to maintain these funding relationships. Moving forward, we are focusing on increasing bank partnerships to sponsor and support our programming. These partnerships allow banks to tap into underserved markets as well. Finally, our Community Business Incubator (opening late 2018) will be our first venture into earned income streams. Our Incubator memberships will be affordable and credit-building for members.

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?

Team: Full-time Director/Founder with background in Microfinance and development, Entrepreneurial Community Coordinator with social impact background, Case Managers with MBA/start-up backgrounds. This summer, we are hiring a Program Manager to oversee growth of programs and a Capital Access Coordinator to increase impact in loan access. Our Board is engaged and includes business leaders, bankers, micro-lenders, attorneys and activists. Our Committees include entrepreneurs we have served.

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

  • White (for example: German, Irish, English, Italian, Polish, French)

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

  • No, I do not identify with an underrepresented community

How did you hear about this challenge?

  • Recommended by others

Evaluation results

4 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! - 25%

Yes/maybe - 25%

Maybe - 50%

Maybe/no - 0%

No - 0%

3. Is this entry IMPACTFUL on financial wellbeing?

Yes, absolutely! - 25%

Yes/maybe - 75%

Maybe - 0%

Maybe/no - 0%

No - 0%

4. Is this entry SUSTAINABLE?

Yes, absolutely! - 0%

Yes/maybe - 75%

Maybe - 25%

Maybe/no - 0%

No - 0%

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

Connection to underserved community - 66.7%

Clarity of Model - 66.7%

Clarity of Writing - 100%

Idea Originality - 33.3%

Understanding of the marketplace or sector - 33.3%

Impact measurement - 0%

Impact Potential - 33.3%

Financial Sustainability - 33.3%

Team - 33.3%

Partnerships - 0%

Potential to scale - 0%

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

Connection to underserved community - 33.3%

Clarity of Model - 0%

Clarity of Writing - 33.3%

Idea Originality - 33.3%

Understanding of the marketplace or sector - 33.3%

Impact measurement - 100%

Impact Potential - 66.7%

Financial Sustainability - 66.7%

Team - 66.7%

Partnerships - 33.3%

Potential to scale - 66.7%

1 comment

Join the conversation:

Photo of Tracy Kirchmann

Great project and mission!