Sharif Rasheed
Sharif Rasheed, courtesy of Kiva Pittsburgh

When Sharif Rasheed needed working capital for Safi Juice, his 18-month-old company that sells cold-pressed juice and healthy foods, he turned to Kiva Pittsburgh, a branch of the pioneering crowdfunding platform based in San Francisco.

Rasheed’s appeal brought him $10,000 from 95 funders, money he’ll repay over 36 months and use to set up a website, social media sites and other marketing.

“I liked what they offered and it has a zero interest rate when you repay the loan, so you can’t beat that,” said Rasheed, whose money came within days of his request being funded. “They’ve called me a couple times since to check on me, see how it’s going. It’s real hands-on, so I love that about it, too.”

Safi Juice, which Rasheed started to escape a dead-end job, delivers to homes and businesses throughout Allegheny County. He pumps out 300 to 500 bottles a week from a South Side kitchen, selling juices and smoothies for $3 to $9, and expects his marketing plan to increase business 15 to 20 percent. Next month, he hopes to open a kiosk in Schenley Plaza, where he can talk with customers about the health benefits of made-to-order drinks using local and organic ingredients.

Rasheed’s is among 144 micro-loans Kiva Pittsburgh has made to Pittsburgh area startup businesses and entrepreneurs since March 2014. Its investment locally totals $714,400, says program director Emily Keebler. It’s easy for people to get involved: browse borrower profiles online and click “Lend.” When borrowers repay, the lenders can keep the money, donate to Kiva or lend again.

Now, Kiva Pittsburgh has formed a partnership with Urban Innovation21, a Kiva trustee. The two organizations will use a $300,000 grant from Richard King Mellon Foundation to expand access to capital for people who might not be able to secure traditional funding.

Kiva Pittsburgh and Urban Innovation21 will hold workshops to explain their programs and how to use social media for crowdfunding. The first workshop is Monday at 6 p.m. at the Urban Innovation21 office, 1435 Bedford Ave. (also available via webinar).

“I have seen firsthand the impact that a flexible Kiva loan can have on a business that just needs a small amount of capital to unlock its potential. A lot of entrepreneurs out there have good businesses or good business concepts but they can’t get traditional funding—they’re using credit cards, paying high interest,” says Bill Generett, president and CEO of Urban Innovation21. “This partnership will allow us to market Kiva even more, and once entrepreneurs understand the benefits, it’s not a tough sell.”

Both Kiva, an international nonprofit, and Urban Innovation21 reach out to entrepreneurs from all backgrounds, believing that with support, people can create opportunity for themselves.

Among Urban Innovation21’s additional programs are its “Inclusive Innovation” Internship Program, Pittsburgh Central Keystone Innovation Zone, Community-Based Entrepreneurship Training Programs, and Citizen Science Lab.

Sandra Tolliver

Sandra Tolliver is a freelance writer, editor and public relations professional in Upper St. Clair.