SMO - Stichting Microfinanciering en Ondernemerschap
The Netherlands launched a new centrally co-ordinated support system for entrepreneurs in 2009. It combines pre- and post start-up business support with microfinance.
Promotion, intake and pre-start-up support is provided by a network of 40 MF-Advice Centres of various types, including Entrepreneurs’ Desks run by municipalities, chambers of commerce and commercial business support organisations. They are accredited centrally but financed locally.
Microloans of between €3,000 to €35,000 are available under the Qredits scheme. Entrepreneurs who wish to obtain a loan should have a viable business plan, and not be able to obtain a loan through a mainstream bank. Up to September 2009 Qredits had processed 2,000 loan requests and granted 450 loans. In 2011, Qredits was the first beneficiary of the EPMF loan fund, with a loan of €20 million.
For post-start-up support, MF-Advice centres and Qredit can refer starting entrepreneurs to coaches. The Microfinance Knowledge Centre has set up a national database of coaches, both volunteers and commercial, which currently lists 171 business support organisations.
In 2007 the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs set up the Council for Microfinance, with the job of promoting microfinance in the Netherlands through policy recommendations, promotion, publicity and representation. Since its establishment the microfinance sector has evolved drastically.
Until a few years ago microfinance was paid very limited attention in the Netherlands, with a scattered set of public and private initiatives extending small loans to (aspiring) entrepreneurs, with or without business support. Despite the good intentions and achievements of these initiatives, the Council for Microfinance identified a number of weaknesses including:
- Target group: not all target groups were being served, as most initiatives targeted people on social welfare;
- Scale: only about 200 credits were granted per year (excluding public initiatives such as BBZ);
- Publicity: the target groups did not know about the initiatives.
Based on that analysis, and taking into account the experiences in microfinance worldwide, the Council submitted its first report in 2008. Recognising that access to both business support and finance is important for the success of an enterprise, especially for those who cannot access finance through regular bank, a new centrally coordinated system was advocated, which has been active since 2009. This new microfinance system combines the pre- and post start-up business support with microcredits (up to €35,000).
The new microfinance system
The new Dutch microfinance system is composed of three elements:
1. intake and pre-start-up support
2. finance: credit of max €5,000
3. post start-up support
Several different parties are involved in the system, namely the Ministries of Economic Affairs and Social Affairs (for funding and coordination of the involvement of business support organisations), Qredits (offers the microloans), financial institutions and an array of public and private business support organisations or so-called Microfinance Advice Centres (MF-Ondernemerspunten). The central coordination was entrusted to a special (temporary) Microfinance Division (Project Directie Microfinanciering) of the Ministry of Economic Affairs.
A Microfinance Knowledge Centre, which is linked to the Microfinance Division of the Ministry of Economic Affairs, has been responsible for the scheme’s implementation. The Knowledge Centre provides information, carries out marketing and is responsible for the central coordination of Microfinance Advice Centres (Mf-Advice Centres). As from April 2010, the coordinating and implementation activities of the Microfinance Division have been transferred to the new Microfinance and Entrepreneurship Foundation.
Promotion, intake and pre-start-up support by MF-Advice Centres
The Mf-Advice Centres are existing or new public and/or private organisations. The Mf-Advice Centres can operate from different and varying locations such as the Entrepreneurs’ Desk at a municipality, Chambers of Commerce, or a (commercial) business support organisations. Some Mf-Advice Centres are set-up as a partnership between a public and private organisation. There are three main organisation structures of Mf-Advice Centres, although variations exist:
- 1 – Entrepreneurs’ House (Ondernemershuis)
In this organisation structure the Mf-Advice Centre is housed in a physical building, either set-up by a commercial organisation or by/in cooperation with the municipality. The Entrepreneurs’ Houses are characterised by low thresholds for the entrepreneurs and can offer a range of services, from advice to training and courses.
- 2 – Entrepreneur’s Desk (Ondernemersloket)
At the Entrepreneur’s Desk the client can contact directly several support organisations during one visit. Often municipalities and chambers of commerce are involved in the Entrepreneur’s desks. This set up allows for geographical coverage, but requires good cooperation between partners, as well as central coordination.
- 3 – Entrepreneurs' network
This structure is characterised by the absence of physical building; (potential) entrepreneurs are approached through a central (virtual) secretariat and are referred to individual (professionals but often volunteers) coaches being part of the network but operating on an individual basis. This structure allows for flexibility, although the visibility is lower for the entrepreneur.
Existing or aspiring entrepreneurs can contact these Mf-Advice Centres. Each advice centre is responsible for the promotion of microfinance, intake procedures, advice before start-up (for example writing the business plan), and for the referral to coaches for post-start-up support.
Business support organisations, can apply to become Mf-Advice Centres if they meet certain criteria. The Centres receive a “Microfinance network label” once they are officially recognised as an Mf-Advice Centre. The benefit for a business support organisation to become a Microfinance Advice Centre consists of the publicity they receive (centrally coordinated by the Foundation Microfinance and Entrepreneurship) as well as the opportunity it provides to exchange knowledge and experiences during network meetings. However, the costs for supporting (start-up) entrepreneurs are not covered by the government. MF-Advice Centres, just as many other business support organisations, need to cover these costs from other funds which they have access to (i.e. from municipalities).
Currently there are 40 Mf-Advice Centres, but the aim is to expand the network of Mf-Advice Centres to obtain national coverage, where a (potential) entrepreneur can receive support anywhere in the Netherlands within reasonable distance independent of his location.
Finance and post-start-up support
Entrepreneurs who wish to start-up an enterprise and need to access credit can apply for a loan either through Qredits or through the government guarantee.
Qredit is the trade name for a Microfinance Institution registered as a Foundation. It offers microloans to entrepreneurs (ranging from €3,000 to €35,000). Entrepreneurs who wish to obtain a loan should have a viable business plan, and not be able to obtain a loan through a general (commercial) bank. The funding of Qredits comes from the Ministry of Social Affairs, four general/ commercial banks and housing Cooperation AEDES. The banks ABN AMRO, Fortis, ING and Rabobank together finance €1.2 million. The Ministry of Economic Affairs has made available €15.8 million, of which €15 million is loan capital, and €0.8 million is to be used for operating costs of Qredits. An additional €50,000 is supplied by the Housing Cooperation AEDES.
Entrepreneurs can submit a loan application online through the Qredit website, or be referred to Qredits by an Mf-Advice Centre. During the intake procedure and screening process, the loan officers of Qredit determine whether a (potential) entrepreneur needs coaching and to which extend. It is up to the entrepreneur to choose which business support organisation or individual coach (s)he wishes to work with. The costs of coaching are covered by the entrepreneur, although there are low-cost options available (such as business support organisations staffed by volunteers).
Up to September 2009 Qredits has processed 2,000 loan requests and granted 450 loans. Their loan portfolio shows that most of the loans are given to self-employed or (part-time) employed persons. It is not clear if all target groups (i.e. unemployed) are effectively reached. A recent research report about the different target groups for microfinance, provides guidelines how the communication strategy can be developed to effectively reach these groups (i.e. women and people living in certain poor neighbourhoods).
Since 2009 the Ministry of Social Affairs launched a special pilot programme to test out whether the financing operations for unemployed persons wishing to set up a business could be channelled through commercial banks. Evaluations revealed that municipalities were not the proper channels to administer and supervise lending. Under the pilot scheme a government guarantee is offered in support of loans (up to €32,000) to be extended by commercial banks. The pilot runs in five regions: Flevoland, Rotterdam, Twente, Leeuwarden and Tilburg. In all other regions, entrepreneurs can approach Qredits either directly (online application) or through a Mf-Advice Centre.
Mf-Advice centres and Qredit can refer starting entrepreneurs to coaches for further coaching. The Microfinance Knowledge Centre has set up a national database of coaches, both volunteers and commercial. Currently their database http://www.eigenbaas.nl lists 171 business support organisations. Qredit also has a national network of coaches named Qoach. The Microfinance and Entrepreneurship Foundation will take over and merge the two coaching databases in the near future. Up to September 2009, about 85% of the entrepreneurs who received a credit received coaching. Currently there is no quality assurance system of coaches/organisations included in the database.
Sustainability of the new microfinance system
The objectives of the new microfinance system stated in an advisory report of McKinsey are ambitious. With microfinance the Netherlands intends to achieve:
- economic impact thought increasing number of start-ups
- social impact through effectively reaching target groups which are excluded from bank financing and involvement of volunteers for business support
- a sustainable and independent organisation, which can operate without state support.
In terms of starting entrepreneurs, the aim is to have 10,000 additional start-ups, who all receive coaching and of whom half receive a micro credit.
For the future of the new microfinance system it will be crucial to look into its economic sustainability. This concerns the funding of the operating costs of Qredit and MF-Advice Centres, as well as the funding for loans and coaching.
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