ANTIOCH -- The Chamber of Commerce is looking to help local small businesses "get to the next level" with an assist from outside lenders.
Antioch's chamber is working with the city to use a microloan program called Kiva Zip, where borrowers with no or limited access to capital can receive interest-free loans through crowd funding, a method of pooling money together from a group of investors via the Internet.
"For our members, maybe there's a piece of equipment they need to buy to help improve and expand their business. This program will allow them to do that," said Sean Wright, the chamber's Chief Executive Officer.
The chamber plans to send out information to its members via email next week, showing the program's success stories, he said.
Borrowers can receive loans of up to $5,000 through the Kiva Zip program -- enough to hire and retain employees or start up and expand a small business.
"The program in and of itself isn't the answer to funding for entrepreneurs, but it certainly is an arrow in the quiver," said Brian Nunnally, Antioch's economic development analyst. "It provides another opportunity for businesses to invest in Antioch."
A city-hired consultant passed on information about the program to city staff, who set up a discussion with the chamber and Kiva officers "to try and find a way to make it work," Nunnally said.
Mayor Wade Harper is among those city leaders who also see it as an opportunity to boost local business.
Wright said he was told that there was not another chamber or municipality trying to use Kiva Zip. However, private firms and nonprofits throughout the country are using the program, he said.
In Antioch's case, the chamber will act as trustee for local businesses. That means it will be responsible for vouching for the character of potential borrowers and endorsing them on the Kiva Zip website.
The chamber is only acting as trustee for chamber members, Wright said.
"We have to have a relationship with them and know what they're about," he said.
Kiva Zip, a pilot program of the microlending nonprofit website www.Kiva.org, was developed in November 2011 to increase direct access for small business owners in Kenya and the United States to receive loans.
An added benefit of the program is that those funding businesses can be kept apprised of a business's progress and offer tidbits of advice, Wright said.
"It can help that there are people that want to see them be successful and are able to help," he said.
Contact Paul Burgarino at 925-779-7164. Follow him at Twitter.com/paulburgarino.