Students in the Arizona Microcredit Initiative provide coaching, microloans to help underserved entrepreneurs
Asha Karthik lifts her pen away from the piece of paper she’s writing on, pausing for a moment to let a black and white cat named Charlie Chaplin strut across it. Karthik, a business data analytics freshman at Arizona State University, is sketching up a business-model canvas for La Gattara Cat Lounge and Boutique, a recently opened small business in Tempe where patrons can peruse cat-themed goods, hang out with free-roaming cats in a lounge-like environment and even take one home if they decide they want to adopt.
Charlie — the lounge’s official mascot, who unfortunately is not up for adoption — finds his way into the arms of La Gattara owner Melissa Pruitt where she sits across from Karthik and fellow business major Justin Ferrara. The ASU students are members of Arizona Microcredit Initiative (AMI), a nonprofit organization whose members are all undergraduates (and mostly W. P. Carey School of Business students, though it’s open to all majors). AMI strives to help local, underserved entrepreneurs start and run their businesses.
At that meeting, Karthik and Ferrara were consulting with Pruitt to go over her business plan. The business model Karthik sketched out was a simple block chart with headings like “marketing” and “revenue.”
“The idea behind the business-model canvas,” Ferrara said, “is that it’s always adaptable and you don’t have to put in the effort of writing a 30-page business plan.”
It’s also just a better way to visualize things, Karthik added. “We can more easily illustrate to clients what they need and how we can help.”
Established in 2012 with funding from ASU’s Edson Student Entrepreneur Initiative and the Pakis Foundation, AMI provides services to entrepreneurs through three avenues: business development workshops, one-on-one consulting and microloans.
“What we’re trying to do is assist entrepreneurs and business owners in the Phoenix area and give them the resources and tools that they need to start or grow their businesses,” said Alex Schreck, a finance and economics junior and AMI’s executive director.
Video by Deanna Dent/ASU Now
At a recent meeting of the executive board, Schreck stood behind a podium at the front of a lecture hall in the Business Administration building on the Tempe campus, making updates to a document projected on a screen for all to see, adding and changing notes based on what other board members reported.
Sean Eghlimi, a finance junior and AMI’s director of finance, told Schreck they received a successful payment from a loan client. Ferrara, a finance sophomore and AMI’s director of consulting, reported a tip about a local pool company, and Tanner Scott, AMI’s director of operations who is triple majoring in supply chain management, marketing and business data analytics, said there had been some updates to the website.
Some of these students are fresh out of high school, or else only a couple years removed, but it’s clear they take this venture very seriously. These are the kids who were reading Forbes and Fortune while everyone else was reading "Game of Thrones." Still, as undergraduates in their late teens and early 20s who don’t even have degrees yet but are asking adult business owners to trust their advice, they’ve faced their share of skepticism.