116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — Shortly after meeting Darius and Wealee Nupolu, the couple gifted my husband and me a set of traditional African clothes for our almost two-year-old son and newborn daughter.
To say the Nupolu’s are generous would be an understatement. And this generosity extends into the way they run their family business here in Cedar Rapids.
Darius, Wealee and their three children moved to Cedar Rapids in 2017. They found that many vegetables traditional to the Liberian cuisine were not available locally, so Darius began looking into options for starting his own farming operation.
It was a lifelong dream that finally felt attainable in a place such as Cedar Rapids.
Darius was up and running once he linked up with Feed Iowa First’s Equitable Land Access Program. But he needed additional funding to take the next step.
After a visit to their farm this summer, I shared more information about a microlending platform newly available to Iowa business owners — Kiva Iowa — which seemed to offer the perfect path forward for the Nupolus’ new business.
Last month an $8,000 business loan was crowdfunded through Kiva Iowa for their Emerging Farms LLC.
Kiva was established in 2005 as the world's first personal micro-lending website. Kiva loans range from $1,000 to $15,000 and come with zero fees and zero interest.
Kiva enables everyday people to pool small lending contributions to provide financial access to entrepreneurs across the globe.
These lenders are motivated by social impact, so while they expect to be repaid, they are not seeking to make interest on their loans.
Small business owners make up our neighborhoods, our communities, across Iowa. The relationships created between lenders and small business owners through Kiva Iowa goes beyond just support for small business — it becomes a personalized link to ensuring their long-term success.
After their success with the program, Darius and Wealee shared the Kiva Iowa opportunity with a family friend, Teepeu. Teepeu and her husband immigrated to the United States in 2014 during the Ebola epidemic in West Africa.
Upon moving to Cedar Rapids three years ago, Teepeu delved into the local catering scene, and cooked and sold meals directly from her home. Many of her regular customers 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.
Entrees focus on rice, meats, different vegetables and a variety of sauces and gravies. Thanks to Darius and Wealee’s suggestion, Teepu also is seeking investment through Kiva Iowa.
As with many Kiva borrowers, immigrant entrepreneurs often experience a unique set of barriers to success. Whether they are starting a tech-based business or running a local retail shop, these business owners may 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 all people hold the power to improve their lives, and this includes immigrant-owned businesses. Thanks to programs such as Kiva, many immigrant-owned businesses across Iowa are fueling the local economy, particularly in smaller communities.
In fact, immigrant entrepreneurs make up over 20 percent of small business ownership in the United States.
It's a tremendous risk to jump start your own company. But these entrepreneurs are determined to succeed, and Kiva is giving them the added boost of confidence they need to accelerate their business growth.
Kiva’s position is at the bottom of the capital ladder. It’s best suited for borrowers starting out or who are building their credibility. In fact, in 2021, 70 percent of the businesses fundraising on the Kiva platform were less than three years old.
Not only does this platform give entrepreneurs access to critical early-stage funding, it also gives supporters a far more accessible way to invest in their local entrepreneurial community.
Kiva is a loan, not a donation, allowing investors to cycle their money and create a personal impact across Iowa or even worldwide.
Kiva Iowa's most recent borrower is Rachael from Café on the Go. A mobile cafe in Iowa City. Café on the Go specializes in handcrafted beverages and different pastries sourced from local bakeries.
Rachael will use her Kiva loan to purchase new equipment, including an espresso machine, commercial grinder and a tea brewer for her trailer. She also would 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 has made it possible for seven Iowa-based businesses to access early capital.
The above businesses are a direct reflection of what makes each of our Iowa communities unique. As Kiva Iowa grows in the coming year, we look forward to sharing borrower stories, as well as providing resources and connections to these entrepreneurs who bind together our Iowa communities.
Learn more about Kiva Iowa, including how to invest in local entrepreneurs, at newbo.co/kiva.