Last week, Accion, along with more than 50 other microbusiness-focused organizations gathered in Washington, DC for three days of learning and collaboration. Our goal? To chart the course of the industry for the years to come. Our challenge? To stay indoors for sessions despite the sunny-and-high-70’s spring weather, one made less daunting by the rich content and conversations.

While we left with dozens of tips, new connections, and new possibilities for collaboration, three big takeaways emerged:

  • There is a palpable urgency in the microenterprise field to foster a culture of innovation and change—and to do it fast. CDFIs and training organizations alike have new, for-profit competitors that are offering loans and “TA” (aka technical assistance, a word we agreed must be retired) in a way that is embraced by today’s small business owner. We as an industry must realize that these new products and services aren’t just “hipper” than our own; they’re offering value to the small business owner in a new and meaningful way.
  • We need to figure out what will help us radically increase our efficiency without losing the personal touch that separates us from the new FinTech and marketplace lenders. We must quickly find an answer to the question around the role that technology will play in this – and gain a level of comfort with the fact that technology can actually deeply humanize processes and create an interconnectedness we never dreamed possible.
  • As an industry, we know that collaboration is key to scale, yet we are still struggling with a microenterprise industry ecosystem that is fragmented. Is the answer more defined partnerships? The creation of a lending marketplace? Technology shared at a wider scale? While all of these possibilities were discussed, we did not emerge with an answer, but know that we must in order to retain a longstanding ability to serve our market.

We’re looking forward to continuing the conversation at AEO’s larger, annual gathering this fall in Atlanta. See you there!

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