At the Five Year Mark: Outcomes Reported by US Microenterprise Clients

March 1, 2010  • Tamra Thetford, Elaine Edgcomb & Ilgar Alisultanov

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The last year and a half has been a time of crisis and opportunity for the US microenterprise field. The twin financial and economic crises have challenged microentrepreneurs and the programs that serve them. As demand has grown for technical assistance and financing, microenterprise development programs (MDOs) have found raising the funds for these services from traditional philanthropic sources more challenging. At the same time, the Obama Administration’s support through the US Small Business Administration (SBA) and the CDFI Fund, using stimulus dollars, has offered an alternative source of funding, but one that has increased the always high expectation for results. Whether stemming from a challenge or opportunity, new funding or old, programs require clear information on what happens to clients who receive training, technical assistance or a microloan from a microenterprise program. As awareness of the importance of small businesses to the US economy grows, supporters of microenterprise must be able to clearly describe what happens to aspiring entrepreneurs, and use this information to improve program services.

For the last six years, FIELD (the Microenterprise Fund for Innovation, Effectiveness, Learning and Dissemination) at the Aspen Institute has helped MDOs collect and report data on their clients’ outcomes after participating in services. In most instances, those reports document the changes clients report an average of a year and a half after program entry. Produced annually, they shed light on the intermediate outcomes clients experience after receiving program services. Drawing on the extensive database of client surveys collected since 2004, there is now data to explore the longer-term outcomes clients experience three or five years after first entering an MDO. This document will summarize the outcomes experienced by clients who have engaged with MDOs over a five-year period. It is hoped that this summary will help illuminate the longer-term experience of entrepreneurs who stay connected to programs over an extended period of time, and demonstrate the type of results that these entrepreneurs can achieve.