December 22, 2015

It is hard to believe there are only a few days left in 2015. When I think on all AEO has accomplished over the last 12 months, I am quickly reminded how meaningful our work is for microbusiness and underserved entrepreneurs, and how the outcomes of our work and that of our members transform lives, communities and economies. We are indeed grateful for the dedication and commitment of our members, the support of our donors and friends, and the co-creation experienced with our partners.

AEO’s year has been a whirlwind powered by several significant victories! I am sharing a few of them with you here.

Shortly before Thanksgiving, the Treasury Department’s Community Development Financial Institutions Fund (CDFI Fund) announced that AEO is its Innovation Challenge Winner.As the winner, AEO will test an innovative way of matching Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) with small businesses in low-income areas that need investment. As you know, small businesses are a key to creating jobs in underserved communities and one of their biggest challenges is accessing capital that can sustain their businesses and help them grow.  Our tool will screen and sort referrals and match them to partnering CDFIs, who will then review and assess the borrower’s profile and determine if they are a good fit for one of their loan products.  Initial lenders who will test the tool will include: Access to Capital for Entrepreneurs (Georgia), the Intersect Fund (New Jersey), Justine PETERSEN (Missouri), and LiftFund (Southeast).  You can view the CDFI Fund’s announcement here.

In September we hosted the 2015 Microbusiness Learning Conference in Atlanta. The Learning Conference was designed for frontline, on-the-ground microbusiness and microfinance practitionerswho work closely with entrepreneurs. The over-subscribed event also drew leaders of microbusiness development organizations and investors in microbusiness. We noted a markedly younger audience, an exciting sign of the new talent entering our industry. Also exciting, was the widespread eagerness among attendees to engage in new ways with AEO in advocacy, collaborating to share insights, or volunteering to help organize our upcoming 25th anniversary conference and celebration.

July was an exciting month with SBA Administrator Contreras-Sweet’s visitwith our Board of Directors. New directors were elected and appointedto AEO’s Board, greatly expanding our leadership capabilities and reach. This month we announced the appointment of Donna Gambrell, former director of the Treasury Department’s Community Development Financial Institution’s Fund (CDFI Fund), to our Board further rounding out our Board additions for the year, and adding to our great bank of immensely talented Directors.



We announced, in June, a $2.7 million Sam’s Club grantto help launch our TILT Forward Initiative. The Initiative is improving access to capital for Main Street entrepreneurs across the country. Also in June, we were invited to join President Clinton on stage at the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI America) meeting to update attendees on our 2011 CGI America Commitment to Action. Our commitment is to unlock the job-creation potential of microbusiness owners through the One in Three campaign. There we announced that AEO’s TILT Forward Initiative had originated $1 million in loans to America’s smallest businesses, and updated our commitment to originate $10 million in loans by the end of 2016.


In May, we convened an invitation-only Leadership Forum where we assembled approximately 100 of the microbusiness and microfinance industry’s most influential leaders. Of the Forum, one attendee said, “This is the best conference I’ve ever attended.” A key focus was creating testable hypotheses to fuel innovation in their organizations.

We started 2015 in a big way by adding a Research and Insights division, and secured a director to lead it. We quickly secured funding for two research projects: one on youth entrepreneurship and the other on expanding economic opportunities for Black families with a special focus on U.S.-born Black business owners. A report on youth and ideas for connecting them to the microbusiness industry will be presented next May at EconoCon25, our national conference and 25th anniversary celebration. The addition of our Research and Insights division significantly expands our capabilities to provide our members with valuable market intelligence and insights, and to lead the conversation on emerging segments and trends.


Friends, all of these great strides complement on our ongoing work on Capitol Hill, and subsequent victories there. For example, AEO’s requests for FY2016 funding of micro lending and technical assistance programs were met. Our request for $35 million in funding for the Microloan Program-Lending was met, an increase from the FY2015 amount of $25 million. Funding for the Microloan Program-Technical Assistance met our request of $25 million, which exceeds FY2015 funding of $22.3 million. The Treasury CDFI Fund will receive $233.5 million, again meeting our request, and exceeding the FY2015 funding amount of $230.5 million. The P.R.I.M.E. program will receive $5 million, which is what we requested. And Women’s Business Centers were allotted $17 million in funding, exceeding our $16 million request, and FY2015 funding of $15 million.

Additionally, AEO made the Microloan Program a top priority for the House and Senate Small Business Committees, and we were recognized in Congressional hearings on this issue.

To cap off an outstanding year, we added four members to our small but mighty team.


Wow. I hope you see what I mean by a whirlwind year driven by several significant victories. At the core of all we’ve accomplished this year sits our focus to get more capital to Main Streetfor a brighter, more sustainable future.

Friends, what do you imagine for the future? What does your ideal future — for underserved and microbusiness owners — look like in 1, 2, or 3 decades?  If you had a blank canvas, how would you paint it?

We imagine leaders across sectors are working in collaboration to leverage each other’s strengths for the solo, micro and small business community. That is AEO’s vision. I am confident we are on the right path. Our future is today. It’s happening right now.


After such an incredible year, AEO is thrilled and humbled to provide an interactive, educational and dynamic experience at EconoCon25— our 2016 National Conference and 25th Anniversary Celebration. EconoCon25 happens May 18 – May 20 in Washington, D.C. I hope you’ll be there for this historic event that’s been 25 years in the making. By the way, we’re running a December promotion with special registration pricing. Please register nowif you haven’t before Dec. 31. Whether you’ve attended 25 AEO conferences, 10, or none, you should be there.


AEO’s Board of Directors and Team AEO extend a very special thanks to our members, supporters, stakeholders, funders who have made this year so incredible, and who continue to make possible our work to enable change — lasting change — to take place on America’s Main Streets. We wish you a prosperous 2016 that is brimming with opportunities to shape your local Main Streets in innovative and inclusive ways.

If you are not an AEO member, I hope you will join the voice of microbusiness  — it’s a great time to join! Also, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to our work. Your donation will enable us to continue our work to empower underserved and microbusiness owners across America.

Very best wishes and Happy Holidays,

Click here to join AEO.  Please click here to make a contribution.


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