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Kiva in the US: building business and community

Scott and Emily didn’t go to business school, nor do they have a formal business background. But they are resourceful, entrepreneurial and passionate. With support from their community, they’ve built 2 small businesses in Oakland, California. 

The couple met and fell in love while working at a large restaurant in San Francisco. “When we got married, we wanted a quality of life where we could have dinner at home together instead of dinner at work or seeing each other for 15 minutes on the shift change,” Scott explains. That’s when they moved to Oakland and started exploring starting their own business. 

Scott and Emily got bitten by the entrepreneurial bug after taking a business entrepreneurship class sponsored by the nonprofit Inner-City Advisors (ICA).

They wanted to open a coffee shop, so they started doing research. Friends contributed their time, advice, expertise and business plans. Emily began calling electrical, water and phone companies to better understand the costs of their business. Scott created a hypothetical staffing schedule to determine labor costs. The two of them learned restaurant industry standards and started studying the example set by Caffe 817, a well-loved espresso bar in Oakland established in 1993. 

One day while they reviewed their proposed business plan on the patio of Caffe 817, the owner told them he was retiring and asked if they wanted to take it over. They said yes and have now been at the helm of Caffe 817 for 8 years. It’s now well-known for its homemade jams, granola and chocolate chip cookies.

Scott and Caffe 817 staff smile during a busy Friday morning shift

Scott and Emily heard about Kiva from fellow small independent business owners in the Oakland area. “It was great to see all these businesses on 9th street come up together, because of Kiva,” Scott says, “People started helping each other, cross-marketing and advertising and stuff like that. When something good happens for one, it’s contagious.”

Small businesses are the backbone of the Oakland economy, with 90% of Oakland’s businesses employing 20 employees or less. Kiva has been active in the Oakland community since 2014, investing in socially impactful businesses that are typically excluded from traditional finance.

“Kiva was monumental,” Scott says of the $9,500 loan they received from Kiva. It enabled them to make important structural and design updates to their well-loved but aged venue. They were able to afford new lighting fixtures, patio furniture, an outdoor awning, painting, indoor updates and social media promotion.

“I recommend Kiva to everybody. I think it's a great way for the community to help each other.”

Scott and Emily's Kiva loan helped them refresh the outdoor seating and patio area

After their second daughter arrived, Emily began spending more time at home with the kids. When her favorite children’s shoe store closed in Alameda, she discovered a need for a brick-and-mortar kids shoe store in Oakland.

Emily didn’t have experience with retail or shoes, but as Scott reasoned, “it’s a little different, but it’s still a business - sell more than you buy, and make sure everyone’s taken care of.” After studying the industry and volunteering at other people’s stores, Emily opened Golden Bug Children’s Shoes. It’s been in business for 2 years now, posting profits both years.

As small business owners, Scott and Emily know the importance of finding supportive partners to help grow their business.

“We don’t have a business background - I’ve been a cook for years and I can make a really good steak - so you have to be a little bit skeptical of people who are offering you the moon. But that’s why Kiva was so cool. There’s nothing to be scared about. It didn’t even feel like a transaction, it was a partnership - literally the most honest partnership.”

Emily and Scott love Oakland’s diverse fabric of unique independently-owned businesses. After benefitting from support from their community, they now spend their spare time giving back to the community by working with the Oakland Indie Alliance - a coalition of restaurant and cafe owners. 

Scott explains how Kiva has impacted the Oakland community

It wasn’t years of business school that made this couple successful. It was just their drive to build a business around their passion and contribute to their community. Golden Bug provides parents with an easy and fun way to buy shoes for their children, while Caffe 817 has become a neighborhood mainstay where loyal customers and first-timers alike can meet and enjoy the atmosphere and a cup of coffee. 

“I want to express gratitude to Kiva lenders and to tell them to keep on doing what they’re doing,” Scott says, “because they provide this lever for businesses that wouldn’t otherwise have access to financing and growth.” To small businesses, a loan of a few thousand dollars goes a long way toward building a business and building a community. 

Click here to help entrepreneurs like Scott and Emily build their business and their community.  

About the author

Channing Fisher.

Channing first witnessed the ability of entrepreneurship to empower people while studying Spanish in Guatemala. Throughout college, she became interested in microfinance while working in business development in the Netherlands and studying the effects of tourism on Caribbean economies. After graduating from Principia College in 2018 with degrees in Political Science and Business, she began work for a Santa Barbara-based nonprofit and later found Kiva. She's passionate about communicating and sharing the work done at Kiva and elsewhere in the international development space.