Women's Initiative for Self Employment
Women's Initiative for Self Employment
Laura Leon, owner of George's House Cleaning, got help for her business from the Women's Initiative for Self-Employment.
Headquarters: San Francisco
Number of loans: 115

This nonprofit also known as WISE has served more than 3,000 business owners -- mostly women -- since its inception in 1998. The loans create jobs, said Ellen Snook, the marketing director: In 2010 alone, WISE loan recipients were responsible for creating 4,000 jobs.

Unlike many microfinance companies, WISE puts all loan recipients through a mandatory 11-week training course before disbursing funds. ''They meet twice a week and there's homework. If they have not graduated from our program, they're not eligible to get a loan,'' said Snook.

In 2008, the organization disbursed 120 loans.

That intense training may be responsible for the success of WISE's ''graduates'': Most see a 50% increase in income; more than half become mentors to other women launching startups.

The small businesses that they help are many and varied. They include cleaning, daycare, food, restaurants, and catering,'' said Snook, ''but then we have a woman who has a mechanical bull rental company, and another graduate who has an accordion repair business. They have this dream or expertise and that's what they're focusing on.''

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.
Last updated July 15 2011: 3:46 PM ET
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