Last year, Deborah Johnson, while attending a networking event hosted by the Flint & Genesee Chamber of Commerce, inquired about financing options available to help expand her Flint-based security alarm company. Johnson wanted to hire another installer/technician to help with customer retention by shortening the turnaround time for service.

“If a customer has to wait too long, they’ll go eventually somewhere else,” said Johnson, of Citizens Statewide Security, Inc., which opened its doors in 2003.

After hearing about the available programs, Johnson decided to go with a crowdfunding program, called Kiva, which provides zero-percent-interest loans for eligible entrepreneurs working to take their business to the next level.

After researching the program – she had never heard of Kiva – Johnson submitted a proposal for a $10,000 loan. Johnson was quick to point out that prospective borrowers on Kiva have to, as she said, “put some skin in the game.”

“You have get at least 15 friends and family to invest in your business before a loan request can go forward,” she said. “Like me, no one (in her circle) had even heard of Kiva.”

Her circle support along with an endorsement by the Flint & Genesee Chamber were keys to getting her request listed and financed through Kiva’s crowdfunded community. Not only was the proposal accepted, but Johnson reached her target in less than a month, with nearly 200 investors loaning Citizens Statewide Security as little as $25.

The Flint & Genesee Chamber is a Kiva trustee, which are people or organizations that publicly vouch for entrepreneurs in their community for the Kiva program.

“Trustees add credibility to a borrower by vouching for their character, business and social impact,” according to Kiva’s website. However, trustees are not legally or financially liable for any borrower they recommend to Kiva.

Johnson added that there are companies that become Kiva investors, too. “Nine companies sponsored me,” she said.

Citizens Statewide Security currently has four employees. As stated on its borrower’s profile on Kiva: ‘We're a small business competing against the industry giants in a constantly growing market. … Our primary goal is to be #1 in customer satisfaction and providing security solutions that fit the needs of our customers.’

“I’m excited,” said Johnson. “The loan will pay for new equipment and training so we can bring on another installer/technician.”