When most people think about the Mississippi Delta, the 200-mile span of northwest Mississippi that is among the poorest areas of the country, entrepreneurship is probably the last thing that comes to mind. But that’s exactly the focus at Clarksdale, Mississippi-based Higher Purpose Co. Located in the heart of the Delta, this social enterprise aims to lift the local population up from the challenging socioeconomics of the area through entrepreneurship.
“We see a lot of people working a fulltime job, or even multiple jobs, and they have an idea that they want to pursue, or they’ve been working on a side business for years,” says Tim Lampkin, CEO of Higher Purpose Co. “What they want is to pursue their idea or side business full-time but they may not have the resources necessary to scale upward.”
No idea or side business is too small for Higher Purpose Co. “We’re talking about business on a micro scale, from mom-and-pop restaurants to graphic designers. They’re talented, but oftentimes the problem is, how do I monetize this in a way where I can maybe drop one of the jobs I have?” Lampkin explains.
Higher Purpose Co. helps the Delta’s budding entrepreneurs in three main ways. The first is through education, including one-on-one consultations with people to help them become entrepreneurs and “changemakers” in their communities. Lampkin says this is what the majority of Higher Purpose Co. spends its time providing. The second is through technical assistance, with things like business licensing, registration and marketing plans. The third is access to capital. Licensed as a private company, Higher Purpose Co. has the capacity to act as a trustee to match entrepreneurs and small business owners to lenders—either credit unions or a local bank.
Recently, the company partnered with Kiva Loan Program to help provide 0% interest small business loans to qualified small business owners. Crowdfunded by hundreds of lenders—some kicking in as little as $25—Kiva loans can often mean the difference between a dream deferred and a dream fulfilled.
“It depends on the business, whether we provide a seed grant or whether we get them into a loan,” Lampkin says. “Some people may not have good enough credit for a traditional lending institution, but their business is viable. We think a seed fund, in that situation, could be the gamechanger.”
Lampkin says the partnership with Kiva is just the beginning.
“We’re not a nonprofit, but we see ourselves as more of a social impact agency, there to provide help to entrepreneurs and the community.”
Speaking of impact: Higher Purpose Co. recently released its 2016 Impact Report, and the findings were impressive, especially when you consider the whole thing started as a pilot project with virtually zero funding. Two-hundred Mississippians attended the company’s four training sessions (with 87 percent saying they would recommend the trainings to their friends and family) and 75 hours of one-on-one technical assistance were provided.
But one of the most striking figures is the fact that, of all the entrepreneurs coming through Higher Purpose Co. in 2016, a whopping 85 percent were women. “To see so many women coming in, women of color, looking to be CEOs and creating their own innovative business solutions to address the needs of the marketplace, I was excited about that,” he says.
Looking ahead, Lampkin says one of the organization’s big goals will be increasing access to capital. “But we’re not trying to create a cookie cutter model, where we apply what we know to every business owner,” he says. “It depends where they are, and where they’re coming from.”