Guest post by Opportunity Fund supporter Sara Leslie, reflecting on her experience serving on the 2013 Selection Committee for Opportunity Fund's Start-Up Funding Challenge. www.saragleslie.com
When Opportunity Fund asked if I’d judge the Start-Up Funding Challenge for the second time, I said, “Yes!” without hesitation. I’m very familiar with Opportunity Fund’s microlending activities. But hearing about the work and participating in the process are two different things.
The judges included representatives from lending organizations, sponsors, donors, and community members. All of the start-ups we reviewed had already received some funding from Opportunity Fund; our job was to see if they should get an extra boost. We determined if they qualified for additional funding because they either made a significant positive impact on their community or had noteworthy momentum.
The three winners that emerged demonstrated that they were—or would become—powerful forces in their community. Beyond just serving coffee, Take Five Coffee and Gallery both adds a third cafe to an area that has only two other coffee shops within a two-mile radius (imagine that, it the San Francisco Bay Area!) and showcases the work of local artists. A&R Mixed Martial Arts is two brothers’ dream to offer classes that provide physical activity and help students build self-confidence.
In the “Momentum” category, we chose Himalayan Beanz Coffeea. The owners already sell their Himalayan-produced beans in several coffee outlets in Nepal and have just opened their first state-side shop in the North Bay.
People launch businesses to have control over their work life and, of course, make money. Take Five, A&R, and Himalayan Beanz businesses serve additional purposes. As a judge, I was proud to recognize individuals who not only take the initiative to start and grow a business but also improve community cohesion, increase youth self-confidence and physical fitness, and support employment right here in California. Congrats, winners!