Kiva Zip Graduation Stories

Queens Courage on display at the sneak preview of Chris's fancy new distillery. Proof + Gauge at the Astoria Distilling Company will be open to the public in January 2016.

When I called former Kiva Zip borrower Chris Murillo earlier this week, he was taking off his construction respirator as he answered the phone. I could hear things being built in the background, the final touches on what he proudly told me will “be the first official craft distillery in Queens” come January 2016.
Chris is the founder and owner of the Astoria Distilling Company, and he has every right to feel proud. Business is booming. A year and a half ago, as he was fundraising a $5000.00 loan on Kiva Zip, he was delivering Queens Courage, his signature product, off the back of his bike. Today he has almost 300 accounts throughout New York and New Jersey, and Queens Courage holds the title of “highest rated new gin in the world” according to the global “Ultimate Spirits Challenge.”
We’re just a little bit proud too. Chris is wildly successful example of what we at Kiva Zip call a “graduated borrower”; someone who no longer needs us, who has benefited from a small crowd-funded Kiva Zip loan and leveraged it to access larger amounts of capital.
Kiva Zip was his first loan. In a matter of three days, he was able to crowdfund a $5000 loan to create marketing collateral and build a website. Next, after developing the business further, Chris qualified for a $10,000 loan from Accion East, a mission-driven microlender – and a long time Kiva partner. At this point he was able to quit his day job and work on Astoria Distilling Company full time. Six months later he was able to leverage $125,000.00 in purchase order financing loans and another $50,000.00 loan from BOC, another alternative lender.
In the beginning: Chris Murillo tabling with his signature product, Queens Courage.

“Kiva was our testing ground. We had our business plan put together, but getting the documents in order was my first time doing it for a lender. It was easy to have this as a first experience with Kiva who is very committed to supporting borrowers.”
“After the success with Kiva there was no looking back, we hit the ground running.”
Similar in success to Chris is Mark Jaffe, founder and owner of The Fresh Connection, a transportation and logistics service for local, independent and environmentally sustainable food producers. It’s a fantastic business, and it’s about to get a whole lot bigger since he winning a highly competitive $93,000 USDA Local Food Promotion Program grant.
Mark found out about Kiva last February through one of our trustees, Slow Money NYC, which has provided dedicated support to Kiva borrowers working to build a strong local food movement. Working with local produce means that winter is slow season for Mark and by February of last year his fledgling business had hit a rough patch.
With an endorsement from Slow Money, Mark launched his campaign on a Friday. By Monday morning he had fully funded his $10,000 loan, making him one of our fastest funding borrowers ever.
“Running a small business can be a lonely place. Crowdfunding on Kiva gave me confidence and reminded me that I have strong backing and so many people who want to see the Fresh Connection succeed.”
Mark Jaffe and the Fresh Connection, building the local food movement one delivery at a time.

“The loan allowed me to get from the doldrums of winter into the spring and helped me stay afloat so I could get to this point.” With the USDA grant, Mark will be able to grow his customer base, expand capacity, and most excitingly, build a last-mile distribution hub where the producers can bring and store their products overnight.
Graduation is crucial for a Kiva borrower’s long-term success. Our loans go up to $10,000 and that’s only going to take a new business so far. That’s why we’re always searching for new ways to help borrowers graduate and move on to larger lenders, including those with whom we’ve developed referral partnerships.
We’re excited to announce that in the service of our mission of expanding access to capital, we’ll soon be able to help Kiva Zip borrowers build their business credit history!
Poor credit history is one of the most common reasons small businesses across the US are rejected for bank loans. Come 2016, borrowers who successfully repay their Kiva Zip loans will also improve their business credit history, helping them access larger amounts of capital from other sources in the future. More on this coming soon.
The problem of access to capital is larger than any one lender can tackle. Our micro loans give businesses a foot in the door; but graduation ensures that the door stays open. Kiva Zip is committed to making sure our hard-working borrowers leave us armed with the tools and relationships they need to access bigger and better opportunities as they grow.

About the author

Lauryn Drainie

Born in Toronto to entrepreneur parents, Lauryn grew up in the world of small business, a world she’s excited to return to as a Kiva Zip Fellow in New York City. Much of her childhood was spent making, packaging, (and eating) delicious, ethically sourced dried fruit for her family’s home business. Lauryn’s passion for environmental protection led her to study environmental policy at the University of Toronto. While attending the 2008 UN Climate Negotiations as a youth delegate, she met youth from Small Island Developing States, an experience that opened her eyes to the human reality of climate change and inspired her to work as a community organizer with several Canadian nonprofits working for climate justice. Most recently, as Senior Campaigner at she empowered Canadians to start and win their own online campaigns on issues ranging from children’s mental health to protecting small businesses. It was here that she discovered the power of storytelling combined with a powerful online platform to connect people for change on a global scale. Lauryn is honored to be joining the KF28 class and looks forward to deepening her understanding of microfinance and how it can be used to help communities develop sustainably.