Student nonprofit helps struggling entrepreneurs

A new student-led business aims to provide business coaching and other financial services to businesses without access to traditional sources of credit.

Computer science sophomore Jeffrey Wells thinks the nonprofit business he helps lead will aid would-be local business owners with bringing their dreams to fruition.

Wells is one of eight students on the staff of Arizona Microcredit Initiative, a nonprofit group that provides business coaching, small-scale loans and other financial services to entrepreneurs who, for whatever reason, do not have access to traditional sources of credit.

“AMI is unique because we target non-traditional borrowers,” economics and Chinese senior Danica Harvey said. “We’re alleviating poverty and creating social credit to stimulate the economy and create jobs.”

Three high school friends — ASU alumnus Eric McKay and Yale undergraduates Vishal Maini and Paul Gu — took the idea for AMI from the Elmseed Enterprise Fund at Yale. The fund is similar to AMI; it also provides business loans to small local entrepreneurs.

“We saw that the New Haven, (Conn.), economy is similar to the Phoenix economy,” McKay said. “They have the same demographics in different areas.”

AMI was founded in May with a $4,000 grant from ASU’s Edson Student Entrepreneur Initiative, a program that awards funding to student startups.

Maini and Gu helped draft the business plan and train the student staff members. Wells, Harvey and other staff members run most of the day-to-day business now that Maini and Gu returned to Yale and McKay lives in New York.

McKay said the company has been focusing on gaining clients, fundraising and becoming incorporated.

AMI has begun teaching a trial entrepreneurship development course at St. Vincent de Paul, a local homeless outreach program, Wells said.

Wells also spent his summer teaching high school students about economics and entrepreneurship.

“A lot of what we’re teaching is more practical and less theoretical,” he said. “It helps educate them on how to start businesses.”

Harvey said most of the students who teach the courses attend the W.P. Carey School of Business.

“Their big strength is that they’re currently students,” Harvey said. “They can explain things well because they’re learning them at the same time.”

AMI has more plans for the new year, including more potential clients who will take full courses from students in the fall.

AMI is also looking to hire more students starting this spring.

Reach the reporter at or follow @JMShumway on Twitter.

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