September 2006  Issue No. 24                    REAP HOME PAGE         A publication of the Center for Rural Affairs

Rural Enterprise Reporter

Innovation and Collaboration Keep REAP in the Forefront of Micro Industry
Providing Access to Core Business Development Services for Rural Entrepreneurs

BY JEFF REYNOLDS & GLENNIS MCCLURE, REAP PROGRAM CO-DIRECTORS

The Rural Enterprise Reporter is an annual publication reviewing REAP activities over the past year. Innovation and collaboration spring to mind as we look back this time. A new REAP online lending system, training by the REAP Women’s Business Center, a national award for our AEO Women and Company Microenterprise Boost Award program, outreach to rural Hispanic entrepreneurs, and collaboration in the HomeTown Competitiveness program are exciting achievements from our work in 2005/2006.

New Online Lending System
Launched in the fall of 2005, the REAP online lending system has improved our outreach and our ability to work with clients across rural Nebraska. The information provided online by businesses has increased the time efficiency of staff getting acquainted with the business prior to the initial meeting.

The time invested in creation of the online lending system has been well worth it. Applications on the system have flowed in steadily since the program began. As a result of this new system, 41 businesses have received a total of $380,000 in REAP loan capital. We envision even more refinements in the future. While the system works very well now, it will need to be continually updated to reach its full potential.

Implications of online lending services for the microenterprise field include better access to capital and technical assistance for micro businesses, improved staff capacity and timeliness of service, and increased client numbers. The new REAP online lending system includes a web-based microloan application that is user friendly.

REAP Rapid Loan Product Unveiled
In conjunction with the new system, REAP introduced a new loan product called the REAP Rapid Loan. The Rapid Loan is a micro loan with a $5,000 maximum limit that utilizes the online application. The online lending system application can double as the pre-application for a REAP Direct Loan of up to $25,000.

REAP staff were involved throughout the development process, providing ideas on how the loan might work. The system was placed online for staff to access and examine for 60 days. Practice applications were tested so we knew how it would look and feel to our loan applicants. After some initial bugs, we went live with the online system.

The first year of operation was viewed as a pilot year, with the understanding that improvements would continue as use increased over time. The online lending system has been accessible and has worked very well since it was launched. Only a few technical glitches have arisen along the way, and, up to this point, any problems have been easily resolved.

This online process improves turn-around time, time available for technical assistance, and time involved overall, which benefits both the client and REAP. We are very interested in the success of the businesses we work with. REAP’s mission of “fostering rural business development in rural Nebraska,” is the reason we strive for continuous improvements and processes like those offered by the 2005-2006 online lending system innovation.

REAP Women’s Business Center – A Good Start for the First Five Years
The work REAP’s Women’s Business Center (WBC) has done with Nebraska small businesses over its first five years has been significant. We’ve documented a total of 4,241 participants in REAP training activities and 2,121 clients with business counseling, technical assistance, business planning, and training in a variety of business management issues. At least 67 percent of those counseled and 70 percent of training participants have been women who own all or part of their own business in rural Nebraska.

Despite these significant numbers and the fact that each year we have surpassed our milestone goals for training and counseling under this Small Business Administration (SBA) partnership agreement, it still feels like we are just getting started. The Center for Rural Affairs has been informed that REAP will continue receiving Women’s Business Center funding over the next five years from the SBA.

REAP continues to improve our services and refine our training materials and programs. We pay close attention to evaluations from program participants. We listen and are very interested in responding to the training needs expressed by entrepreneurs across rural Nebraska.

Over the last couple of years, the REAP Women’s Business Center has taken a more active role in searching out strategic partnerships and alliances to help spread our wings and do more outreach to women in business, including programs like the Nebraska Women in Agriculture conference. It is important that we work to help support this great conference and others that relate very closely to our mission.

A National Award -- An Extra Feather in REAP’s Cap
REAP received national recognition for our work in the Women & Company Microenterprise Boost Program during 2005. REAP Women’s Business Center was selected among local partners in this Association of Enterprise Opportunity (AEO) program to receive the “Excellence in Microenterprise Work with Women Entrepreneurs” award. In 2006, REAP–WBC made Women & Company funded equity awards to 14 women entrepreneurs who demonstrated meeting the award criteria, including additional training and assistance from REAP based on their business progression needs.

The final report for this project was just completed, and again in the majority of cases, equity award recipients made great strides in their businesses. They used a small amount of money ($1000 or less) and focused it carefully on some aspect of their business that would likely make an impact. One client hugged our business specialist and said that because of REAP and the small loan and equity funding, she was able to acquire the necessary equipment to land a three-year contract with a major company that would total at least $19,000 in revenue the first year. Stories like this coming from our women entrepreneurs make REAP’s work worth it!

REAP and HomeTown Competitiveness (HTC)
The Center for Rural Affairs actively supports HTC. The Center’s mission is about working to strengthen small businesses, family farms and ranches, and rural communities through action-oriented programs. HTC is designed to be action oriented and embraces the involvement of many in communities that have joined this effort. Several rural Nebraska communities have been involved in recent years as the HTC strategy has evolved. It is meant to help keep rural communities alive and thriving. REAP especially has core business development services to offer those that are entrepreneurial energized!

During the past year, REAP staff have actively participated in HTC events and trainings. Glennis McClure has been a member of the HTC management team and attended the Entrepreneurial Development System’s national collaborative conference held in Portland, Oregon in early 2006.

Adriana Dungan attended the HTC Academy in northeast Nebraska. Both Adriana and Janelle Moran participated in New American seminars during the year. Monica Braun, Eugene Rahn, and Glennis have also participated in HTC site coach and resource team retreats. REAP Co-Directors Jeff Reynolds and Glennis McClure have been active on HTC Infrastructure Working Groups. Jeff participates on the Capital Access Working Group, and Glennis helps to co-lead the Training Assistance Working Group.

Through the working groups we have discussed needs of HTC communities, coordinators, and pillar groups in collaboration with other resource providers. The purpose is to help in the development of products and tools that can aide HTC communities in their entrepreneurial support efforts. 

HomeTown Competitiveness encourages communities to take immediate action in four strategic areas: mobilizing local leaders, capturing wealth transfer, energizing entrepreneurship, and attracting young people. Together, these strategies create a synergy that can significantly impact the future prospects of rural areas experiencing out-migration and economic decline. HTC calls for rural communities to invest in local human resources and to build and retain local wealth.

What’s Next for REAP? Business Plan Builder on Horizon
As we plan for the coming year, more collaboration and innovations are in the works. We’re currently meeting with website designers to make improvements on the online lending system and the REAP website, with the possibility of a Business Plan Builder coming online.

REAP Women’s Business Center trainings will again be critical to our progress. We will continue to further implement our REAP Hispanic outreach.

An exciting new statewide event for entrepreneurs, MarketPlace: Opening Doors to Rural Success is being planned for February 28, 2007 in Kearney, Nebraska. And most importantly, staff will remain committed to providing individual assistance to entrepreneurs, both startup and existing businesses across rural Nebraska.

REAP has a long history of being customer driven. Rural entrepreneurs are our customers. REAP will continue to listen to our customers and research, develop, and implement new initiatives to meet their needs. REAP will also continue to collaborate and build strategic partnerships with other service providers to help better serve rural entrepreneurs.

Contact: Jeff Reynolds, REAP Program Director at 402.656.3091 or jefff@alltel.net for more information.

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