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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Microloan program aims to empower entrepreneur spirit in young adults

Treva Lind treva.lind@comcast.net

Wanted: Young Spokane-area entrepreneurs who could use a small financial boost to grow a business.

A new microloan program called Young Entrepreneur Power, or YEP, seeks 18- to 24-year-olds to apply for loans from $300 to $2,500 to create startups or business expansions under two qualifications.

The first category considers young entrepreneurs who have an individual or family income in a low to moderate range and live in Lincoln Heights, Southgate or Rockwood neighborhoods. A second option is for those who live anywhere in Spokane at any income level and have a business idea benefiting or employing city of Spokane residents with low to moderate income.

“We’d consider the program a huge success if we can award between 10 to 15 individual loans between now and the end of the year,” said Tim Behrens, a Lincoln Heights Neighborhood Council member. “They never pay more than 3 percent interest on a loan, with a two- to three-year term to the loan.”

The program has about $20,000 in initial funding available this year to qualified 18- to 24-year-olds. Behrens said a community development block grant via the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development provided seed monies.

Lincoln Heights, Rockwood and Southgate neighborhood councils helped support the microloan program. YEP also is sponsored by SNAP, city of Spokane Neighborhood Services and Spokane Federal Credit Union. SNAP Financial Access, a program administering disbursement of the loans, will offer consulting and business training to YEP recipients at 500 S. Stone St., in the East Central Community Center.

To apply, candidates fill out an online form on YEP’s website, at www.yepspokane.com. People who don’t have computer or Internet are encouraged to use resources at libraries or through SNAP at the East Central center, Behrens said. Business ideas can vary widely, such as clothing design, food trucks, pet services and even a garage band.

“We want them to exercise their imagination,” Behrens said. “We don’t want to exclude anyone, so we’d rather anyone who isn’t sure just apply, and we’ll work with them. Our main criteria is they be 18 to 24 years old.”

Cameryn Flynn, SNAP business development services coordinator, said YEP entrepreneurs will get help developing a business plan and curriculum training through SNAP Financial Access, which operates business lending services and a women’s business center.

“We offer one-to-one consultation and training,” Flynn said. “Youth will have free access to that.”

Subjects include business, legal, taxation, web design and financial considerations. The SNAP program’s educational platform blends online curriculum with classroom experts.

Both Flynn and Behrens said the YEP participants who develop strong business plans have the potential to receive larger SNAP-administered business loans. Its lending services support an average loan of about $25,000, typically under HUD standards.

“If we find someone has a plan that’s really promising, they can ask for more,” Behrens said.

Behrens, previously an economic developer, moved to Spokane in 1980 for a project involving youth employment and alternative energy.

“I’ve always liked programs for kids,” he said. “I was part of the team that started Crosswalk.”

He brought the microloan idea to the Lincoln Heights Neighborhood Council. The 18-24 age group is targeted for several reasons. In part, graduation rates here hover around 80 percent, he said, so Spokane has a number of school dropouts. Meanwhile, Spokane’s community colleges draw large attendance, and students likely have business ideas. Young people leaving the military also may want to start enterprises.

YEP provides a positive goal, Behrens said. “This might help young people and give them some business experience. We want them to have as real of an experience as possible and come with a little of their own resources, maybe talk to parents or neighbors.”

Flynn agreed YEP’s opportunities could encourage more youth to remain in Spokane, rather than move away. “We want to see that they’re passionate about the idea,” she said.

A committee will review applications. The panel includes Behrens, Flynn, a Spokane Federal Credit Union loan expert and another Lincoln Heights board member.

Behrens said, “We’ll be reviewing applications and make decisions on recommending if they pass that stage onto SNAP. We help them first of all craft a business plan that makes sense. SNAP would actually issue the check, but the committee has some say on the amount.”

Unlike some TV shows, YEP participants won’t have to speak publicly with a business pitch in front of the committee.

“This isn’t ‘Shark Tank,’ ” Behrens said. “This is more like goldfish tank.”

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