- The Elmseed Enterprise Fund is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization based in New Haven, Connecticut. Through business development courses and low-rate microlending, Elmseed assists and trains entrepreneurs without access to more traditional forms of financial services or education. Elmseed serves both those who are looking to grow their existing businesses and aspiring entrepreneurs. Elmseed is made up entirely of students from Yale University, giving it a unique structure that seeks to take advantage of low operating expenses. Today, Elmseed is the most developed on-campus microfinance organization in the United States.
Elmseed’s mission is to facilitate the creation of successful small businesses in New Haven. By providing access to small, low-interest loans and technical assistance, Elmseed seeks to open the capital markets to motivated entrepreneurs who lack the capital or resources to start or expand small businesses.
Letter From Our CEOEdit
Over the past three years, Elmseed has been sprinting forward and making great strides to serve both our clients and community better. In 2012, we met with 65 unique consulting clients to work on projects such as website and menu design, bookkeeping management, and catering strategies. Of 45 loan applications submitted, we ultimately approved 8 to expand a Caribbean spices business and start a digital media company, among many others.
Over the past three months of 2013, we have already approved three loan applications to expand a multimedia studio, start a retail boutique, and launch a Hispanic food truck. Our Spanish and English Entrepreneurship Development Courses are in full swing. The more clients we serve, the more we see how great the need is in the community. Speaking to numerous community partners and leaders in the nonprofit, trade, and public sectors, we have realized that there are still neighborhoods throughout New Haven that don’t have the opportunities Elmseed could provide. Dozens of existing business owners are struggling to grow and still more people are unemployed or underemployed because they don’t have access to the financing and support that would allow them to start a business best utilizing their skills.
This year, we hope to target those neighborhoods and entrepreneurs more strategically. Over the past few years, we have refined our loan process and can now complete applications in an incredibly timely manner. Our staff is also larger than ever, making our organization well poised to work with many more clients. Specifically, we would like to expand our outreach in Fair Haven and further develop the credit-building loan product that we piloted last year. Successfully integrating the credit building loan product will bring us closer to our mission of incorporating unbanked entrepreneurs in to the traditional system and having long-term benefits in the lives of our clients.
We hope that you will consider supporting us in our endeavors. Many new projects have been keeping us busy and we see so much potential in New Haven. We are very excited to see that the city and the state have developed similar visions to support entrepreneurship and small businesses as part of a long-term economic growth strategy. We hope that we can work together under this greater vision to really improve New Haven’s businesses.
Chief Executive Officer
Elmseed Enterprise Fund
In 2001, Gabriel Kuris, Kitty Harvey, and James Choy founded Elmseed after receiving first place in Yale University's 10k Initiative for their proposal to build a nonprofit. Although it was widely believed (and still is a contentious debate) that microfinance institutions are not sustainable in the United States, Choy asserted that Elmseed's unique makeup of university students would eliminate the high operating expenses faced by other firms.
Although Elmseed's loan structure initially was modeled after Muhammed Yunus' very successful Grameen Bank in Bangladesh, a high default rate after the first year caused the organization to reevaluate its underwriting process. For a few years, Elmseed teetered on the brink of existence as high student-turnover and lack of positive metrics plagued the organization.
(none of this is verified, btw) In _____, Elmseed was only producing ___ loans per year. An initiative put forward by CEO Noah Sheinbaum pushed Elmseed towards its new goal of disbursing ten loans per year.
Today, Elmseed is considered the premier model of on-campus micro-finance institutions.
Looking to the FutureEdit
Over the course of the past year, Elmseed has rapidly expanded to better meet the needs of our clients. We have recently developed a preliminary loan application to allow us to more efficiently partner with community organizations, and a “fast track” process to expedite loan decisions for our most advanced clients. We have also taken steps to improve our outcome tracking and metrics system, in order to better analyze our community impact. Looking forward, Elmseed is focusing on our clients’ sustainability by strengthening long-term communication with our clientele and taking steps to improve their financials. The organization is also working to increase our engagement with New Haven’s traditionally underserved communities and to expand our capacity to increase our client intake.
Elmseed is taking a number of steps to further promote long-term economic stability within the community. We are invested in our clients’ enduring success and are working to maintain contact with our clients after loan approval and implementation. The provision of ongoing support is crucial to ensure the long-term sustainability and success of our clients’ businesses. By ensuring that their businesses become fully integrated presences within the community, we are making each client a long-term investment. This year, Elmseed is implementing initiatives to improve our clients’ personal financial standings. By initiating exclusive credit-building loans, we are working to improve our clients’ credit scores and increase their qualifications for future business transactions with traditional lending sources. We are also forming relationships with like-minded community partners with the eventual goal for our clients to become bankable.
Lastly, Elmseed is also taking concerted steps to broaden and improve our engagement with New Haven’s large, traditionally underserved communities. Thanks to Elmseed’s newly established Spanish Outreach Department, we have been able to start marketing our services and loan products to New Haven’s large Spanish-speaking community. Elmseed is working to expand our outreach efforts to target veterans and refugees as well. Peer microfinance institutions throughout the US have had great success working with traditionally underserved communities, and Elmseed hopes to replicate this success by partnering with community organizations and local leaders to receive client referrals for our consulting and loan services. With our new loan application process, credit-building loans, ongoing client support, and talented client recruitment team, Elmseed is in a stronger position than ever before as we work to continue growing our impact in New Haven.
Elmseed is run and staffed by a dedicated group of undergraduate student volunteers at Yale University. For more information, see Elmseed Organizational Structure.