Showing startups the money
Showing startups the money

Even before the credit crunch, the smallest of small businesses had trouble getting loans.

The reasons why are many: Sometimes traditional lenders view them as too risky, or the credit profiles of the small business owners are poor. Some entrepreneurs don't have enough collateral.

Enter microfinance companies, or microlenders. These nonprofit organizations help fill in the gap, lending money -- usually no more than $35,000, but often even smaller amounts -- to companies with just a few employees. And their guidelines for lending are much more flexible than the traditional banks.

Nearly half of the millions of dollars in loans from 100 microlenders go to startups, according to data from MicroTest, a project run by the Aspen Institute's Microenterprise Fund for Innovation Effectiveness Learning and Dissemination (FIELD).

Microlenders provide one-on-one assistance and training for small businesses in addition to loans, said Tamra Thetford of FIELD. So a talented guitar repairperson who needs help with Quickbooks or an entrepreneur who wants emotional support during the launch of his or her business, can get that sort of help from a microlender.

The following 10 lenders are the largest in the country based on the number of loans disbursed in fiscal year 2008. Thetford, who is compiling a new list, said that she expects the ranking to stay pretty much the same.

These nonprofits help all kinds of businesses. Yours could be one of them.

Source: The top 10 largest microlenders were taken from the U.S. Microenterprise Census, conducted in 2009 by FIELD at the Aspen Institute. The list , which is the most recent from the Institute, presents results based on the number of microloans (loans of $35,000 or less) disbursed by 362 U.S. microlenders throughout fiscal year 2008.

Half of the microlenders on this list are ACCION nonprofits. ACCION is a large microfinance organization that is charged with helping startups and small businesses. The ACCION microlenders have the same name and similar mission statements, but each focuses on its own region and is autonomous.
By Rachel Kaufman - Last updated July 15 2011: 3:46 PM ET
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