Kiva Iowa gives immigrant businesses a boost

CEDAR RAPIDS – Shortly after meeting Darius and Wealee Nupolu, the couple gifted my husband and I with a set of traditional African clothing for our almost two year old son and newborn daughter.

To say that the Nupolu are generous would be an understatement. And that generosity extends to the way they run their family business here at Cedar Rapids.

Darius, Wealee, and their three children moved to Cedar Rapids in 2017. They discovered that many traditional vegetables in Liberian cuisine were not available locally, so Darius began looking for options to start his own farm.

It was the dream of a life that finally seemed achievable in a place like Cedar Rapids.

Darius was up and running once he partnered with Feed Iowa First’s equitable land access program. But he needed more funds to take the next step.

After a visit to their farm this summer, I shared more information about a newly available microcredit platform for business owners in Iowa – Kiva Iowa – that seemed to offer the perfect path for the new business. of the Nupolus.

Last month, an $ 8,000 business loan was funded through Kiva Iowa for their Emerging Farms LLC.

Kiva was established in 2005 as the world’s first personal microcredit website. Kiva loans range from $ 1,000 to $ 15,000 and have no fees or interest.

Kiva enables ordinary people to pool small loan contributions to provide financial access to entrepreneurs around the world.

These lenders are driven by social impact, so while they expect to be paid back, they are not looking to earn interest on their loans.

Kaitlyn Byers, NewBoCo

Small business owners make up our neighborhoods, our communities, all over Iowa. The relationships created between lenders and small business owners through Kiva Iowa go beyond just supporting small businesses – they become a personalized bond to ensure their long-term success.

After their success with the program, Darius and Wealee shared the Kiva Iowa opportunity with family friend Teepeu. Teepeu and her husband immigrated to the United States in 2014 during the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.

After moving to Cedar Rapids three years ago, Teepeu immersed herself in the local restaurant scene and cooked and sold meals right from her home. Many of her repeat customers have encouraged her to take this business to the next level.

Enter Tee’s Liberian dish. Teepeu’s new restaurant in Cedar Rapids serves Liberian cuisine for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

The entrees focus on rice, meats, different vegetables and a variety of sauces and sauces. Thanks to the suggestion of Darius and Wealee, Teepu is also seeking investments through Kiva Iowa.

Jollof Rice is served with chicken at Tee’s Liberian Dish in Cedar Rapids. (The Gazette)

As with many Kiva borrowers, immigrant entrepreneurs often encounter a unique set of barriers to success. Whether they are starting a technology-based business or running a local retail store, these business owners can come from cultures and countries that have different structures and policies when it comes to running and financing a business.

Kiva envisions a financially inclusive world in which everyone has the power to improve their lives, and that includes immigrant-owned businesses. Through programs like Kiva, many immigrant-owned businesses across Iowa are fueling the local economy, especially in small communities.

In fact, immigrant entrepreneurs make up over 20% of small business owners in the United States.

It is a huge risk to start your own business. But these entrepreneurs are determined to succeed, and Kiva is giving them the extra boost they need to accelerate their business growth.

Kiva’s position is at the bottom of the capital ladder. It is best suited for borrowers who are just starting out or building their credibility. In fact, in 2021, 70% of companies raising funds on the Kiva platform were under three years old.

Not only does this platform give entrepreneurs access to essential seed funding, it also gives supporters a much more accessible way to invest in their local entrepreneurial community.

Kiva is a loan, not a donation, allowing investors to recycle their money and make a personal impact in Iowa or even around the world.

Kiva Iowa’s most recent borrower is Rachael from Café on the Go. A mobile café in Iowa City. Café on the Go specializes in artisanal drinks and various pastries from local bakeries.

Rachael will use her Kiva loan to purchase new equipment, including an espresso machine, commercial grinder, and coffee maker for her trailer. She would also like to add a sign to her trailer and install retractable walls that will allow her to operate during the winter months.

In the first six months of operation, Kiva Iowa enabled seven Iowa-based companies to access seed capital.

The companies above are a direct reflection of what makes each of our Iowa communities unique. As Kiva Iowa grows over the coming year, we look forward to sharing stories of borrowers, as well as providing resources and connections to those entrepreneurs who unite our Iowa communities.

Learn more about Kiva Iowa, including how to invest in local entrepreneurs, at

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