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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  • 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?

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


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)


  • $500k - $1m

Website or social media URL(s) (optional)


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.

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 barriers that hinder the growth of small businesses.

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 $1,000/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 lower our cost of providing TA services to $1,000 per entrepreneur per year (national average of $4,500 per entrepreneur) and scale our programs to reach 300-400 LMI entrepreneurs annually. The Centro App has also delivered over 3,000 business plans to entrepreneurs in more than 150 countries, enabling them to pursue entrepreneurship to build a sustainable financial future for themselves and their families. After receiving TA services, these entrepreneurs have been successful in receiving microloans, starting or growing microenterprises, creating jobs and bringing a positive change in underserved communities by increasing business ownership amongst women and minorities. Since 2010, Centro has served over 3,500 entrepreneurs, facilitated access to $670,000 in microloans and provided 9,000+ hours of 1-on-1 business advisory services.

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

Our strategies are: •Centro will continue developing partnerships with TA providers and microlenders in the US, Latin America and Africa to scale its impact. •We will partner with the Aspen Network of Development Entrepreneurs and incorporate 280 of its member organizations in 150 countries. •Centro will continue to work with its technology partners such as Twitter, LinkedIn and Google to reach more entrepreneurs globally. •Centro is expecting to partner with the US Embassy to introduce Centro’s entrepreneurship tools in major markets to reach 100,000 entrepreneurs.

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?

We are reliant on grant funding and generate only 10% of revenue from fees-for-service. We have raised $350,000 in capital to build the Centro App. We have 10 microlenders committed to host their microloan products on the new version of Centro’s App. It will enable us collect a referral fee from the microlender for each microloan that gets funded. Centro will also generate a license fee from its technology and curriculum by licensing it. We expect to break-even in less than 3 years.

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

Organization name

Centro Community Partners

Program Design Clarity

Centro provides entrepreneurship training programs year around to low-to-moderate income (LMI) entrepreneurs. These programs are 30 to 140 hours in duration and train entrepreneurs in business competencies and financial literacy to help them start their business and achieve financial well-being. Centro has developed an innovative mobile app to provide access to capital and technical assistance (TA) services to anyone, anywhere.

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

  • credit
  • education / literacy
  • entrepreneurship
  • investments
  • loans

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

  • Process innovation (execution of a new or considerably improved production or delivery method)

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

Centro’s partners can be divided into two broad categories: 1) TA providers: Centro partners with organizations such as Vermont Slauson, Accion East, Women’s Business Centers who utilize Centro’s technology and curriculum to scale their services and lower costs. 2) Microlenders: Centro works closely with microlenders and community development financial institutions such as, Kiva US, Opportunity Fund, Working Solutions, in order to facilitate access to capital for entrepreneurs.

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

Centro will invest the 80% of the prize money to finish its development of the next version of its BPA. The remaining 20% will be allocated to getting 150 microlenders and 50 TA providers across the US signed up and added to the Centro App.

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

Centro is proud to be recognized for innovating and being an industry leader. Some of our accolades include: 2018 - NBCUniversal Innovation Award 2016 - Top 10 Finalists for Drucker Award for Most Innovative Non-profits. 2015 - Top 10 Kiva US Trustee 2015 - Fast Company 50 Free Apps to Make You an incredibly Productive Person 2015 - Google.org Bay Area Impact Challenge Finalist

Evaluation results

3 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! - 66.7%

Yes/maybe - 0%

Maybe - 0%

Maybe/no - 33.3%

No - 0%

2. Is this entry INNOVATIVE?

Yes, absolutely! - 66.7%

Yes/maybe - 0%

Maybe - 0%

Maybe/no - 33.3%

No - 0%

3. Is this entry IMPACTFUL on financial wellbeing?

Yes, absolutely! - 66.7%

Yes/maybe - 0%

Maybe - 33.3%

Maybe/no - 0%

No - 0%

4. Is this entry SUSTAINABLE?

Yes, absolutely! - 66.7%

Yes/maybe - 0%

Maybe - 33.3%

Maybe/no - 0%

No - 0%

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

Connection to underserved community - 100%

Clarity of Model - 33.3%

Clarity of Writing - 33.3%

Idea Originality - 33.3%

Understanding of the marketplace or sector - 33.3%

Impact measurement - 0%

Impact Potential - 33.3%

Financial Sustainability - 0%

Team - 0%

Partnerships - 33.3%

Potential to scale - 66.7%

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

Connection to underserved community - 0%

Clarity of Model - 50%

Clarity of Writing - 0%

Idea Originality - 50%

Understanding of the marketplace or sector - 0%

Impact measurement - 100%

Impact Potential - 0%

Financial Sustainability - 0%

Team - 0%

Partnerships - 50%

Potential to scale - 0%


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