For our second challenge of the 2022-2023 program year, we partnered with ProsperUs Detroit, a nonprofit that supports entrepreneurs with opportunities and capital needed to build businesses, generational wealth, and vibrant neighborhoods. Five teams of Fellows worked collaboratively with the ProsperUs staff as well as community stakeholders to create deliverables for this project – learn more from the perspective of each team! 

Have you ever taken a loan out before? Whether it be for advancing our academic career or buying a house, many members of our fellowship cohort have experience in taking out a loan. Despite what we knew, there was more to learn about the lending process. As we listened to the personal stories of entrepreneurs who have taken out a business loan, we uncovered an overwhelming number of questions: How much should I borrow? Can I pay my loan back? What is the interest rate? What is my current credit score? What are the underlying nuances?

During our project kickoff day, we all had the opportunity to go through an exercise where ProsperUs loan ‘officers’ walked us through reading financial statements. Upon first glance, we realized how convoluted the statements were particularly for those of us who were not financially literate with all their outlay tables and accounting jargon. However, the ProsperUs loan ‘officers’ did a wonderful job in communicating what each section of the financial statements meant.

We learned that access to economic resources and capital is merely one factor entrepreneurs face when making business decisions. Other factors include having adequate knowledge in business processes, and expert support to guide them through decisions such that their business can prosper.

In order to design potential solutions which addressed our question, it was important to us to shed a new light on the lending process by making it less intimidating for entrepreneurs who are still developing their business plan. Though personal finance is a bit of a touchy subject, ProsperUs knows the power of lending and how it can be beneficial to startup businesses. One of the key takeaways from our conversations with the lending team was that ProsperUs does not, and will not, set entrepreneurs up for failure financially. As such, we should really call these loan ‘officers’ loan ‘advocates.’

A success story that we heard during the stakeholder interview process was that of entrepreneur, Alexis Mann. Alexis spoke to us about her passion for fashion and her use of ProsperUs’s services like funding and technical assistance. With this, she altered her business plan to make it more financially feasible. Alexis voiced, “ProsperUs does a really good job in being supportive … you can feel the love; we are like one big family.” This gave our team insight to how fostering relationships with others catalyzes ongoing entrepreneurial spirit and success, especially relating to financial standing.

Our team’s design question was, “How might we ensure that opportunities for accessing capital are relevant, understood, accessible, and successfully utilized?” Our task was to help entrepreneurs better understand the lending process. Together we ideated and built several tools for trainees to use for not only approaching the lending process, but to be prepared for it as well. This included a Training Program Roadmap for tracking progress and initiating meetings with loan officers earlier on, a Post-Graduation Roadmap for graduates to continue tracking their progress based on their business plan, a corresponding fillable worksheet for both roadmaps so entrepreneurs can monitor their progress, a Loan Calculator for loan officers and/or trainees to use in order to demystify the loan process, and a Technology One-Pager that outlines various programs such as Excel and Quickbooks and links to software application tutorials in order to help bridge the gap of technological skill between entrepreneurs who may not have had access to those tools in the past. 

Our team Chauncey, Eva, Jenny, Daniel, Haley, and Livia (left to right) and lending officer Siobhan Barrett (center) after the Challenge Friday Presentation. We decided to coordinate by incorporating the ProsperUs logo colors into our outfits for the presentation!

Partnering with ProsperUs these past seven weeks has been a blast! We hope that these deliverables will help ProsperUs make lending more approachable and enable Detroit’s entrepreneurial ecosystem to thrive. 

“Sometimes folks just need somebody else to buy into their ideas.” – Marvin Yates, ProsperUs Detroit Trainer

Blog by Fellow Team: Jenny Pangero, Daniel Arini, Eva Livia Stine, Chauncey Thompson, Haley Beverlin