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Village Finance creates microcosm of small businesses

Village Finance creates microcosm of small businesses

Its grants, awarded with ERDF support, have enabled dozens of micro-businesses to be created in the Canal Area, generating 185 jobs.


2014-09-19 – Money – the ‘sinews of war’ as it has been called – is often the missing ingredient when there is a project to be carried out. The key factor that determines whether the transition can be made from dream to reality. The non-profit organisation Village Finance understands this, which is why it has organised project calls enabling new entrepreneurs located in the Canal Area (the PIZ, in administrative terms: see here) to obtain a grant of 6,200 to 18,600 euros. Often, this provides the necessary boost to set up a small business or attract early investment.

Pierre Gillet, the project manager, recalls how ‘It originally started with the “helping hand” grant worth 6,200 euros. This was intended for the owners of projects not funded by traditional banks. The idea was to help the long-term unemployed, recipients of social welfare support or the working poor with a flexible formula.’

The initiative, supported by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), is very straightforward: people with a business idea present it; they can get help with putting together a plan; their application for a grant is analysed by a panel; and if they are selected, the sum of 6,200 euros is allocated to them and paid out on the basis of invoices.

Supporting sustainable development

‘Secondly,’ continues Pierre Gillet, ‘we have also launched a support scheme for "sustainable enterprise projects". The principle is similar. Applicants submit a project with high added value in terms of sustainable development and, after selection by a panel, grants of 6,200 euros are likewise awarded. By means of this help, Village Finance seeks to create leverage – financial leverage that allows entrepreneurs to increase their borrowing capacity, with the grant supplementing a loan.’

The establishment of Village Finance within Village Partenaire is an indication of how rooted the scheme is in realities on the ground: on a small street within an urban block at the lower end of Saint-Gilles, around a tastefully designed, pleasant courtyard shared with an office complex. ‘Former winners of our grants return here,’ explains Pierre Gillet: ‘to stay in touch, to receive other forms of support, to retain this constructive outlook or for accommodation. The idea of ​​Village Finance is also to involve other partners whose approach is similar to our own.’

Specifically, the ‘helping hand’ grant is intended to stimulate projects that create their own jobs, often through the formation of micro-enterprises, in areas such as catering, the manual trades, electrical work and so on. The sustainable development support is probably more useful for people who have less difficulty at first, but lack the means to really get their business off their ground.

A positive record

According to Pierre Gillet, the initial grant allocation record is a positive one: ‘Since July 2013, around twenty helping hand and ten sustainable development grants have been awarded. In the future, during the period 2014 to 2020, we hope to qualify for other ERDF subsidies in order to continue investing in promising sectors such as food, green building and waste.’

Most of the ‘helping hand’ project owners are between 30 and 45 years old, and they are often in the process of retraining or are re-entering the world of work. If they are 35 years or older, they are no longer eligible for other assistance. Around a third are women. Over 60% are job-seekers and some 30% are on social benefits. A number of small businesses have been created in various fields, including interior design, music production, communication and food.

The "sustainable development project support" most commonly relates to the catering sector, for example for the use of organic produce or the sale of raw food, the new and delicious style of cuisine. One project was looking for financing in the tourism sector. The idea was to organise bicycle tours, but Brussels’ many hills made this difficult in practice, other than with an electric bike – which is the service now provided.

A positive approach

The grants are not just intended to get people back in work, but above all to encourage a positive and entrepreneurial approach. ‘Since the inception of these ERDF subsidies (in 2008), 185 new jobs have been created for 97 grants awarded. Local jobs in the Canal Area.’

The Green Hopping project is one noteworthy recipient of support. Three people from different backgrounds have launched a private limited-liability company and created a website providing information about sustainable tourism. They have settled on Rue Fernand Bernier in Saint-Gilles, on Village Partner premises. In this way, they have contributed to the development of a microcosm of very small businesses around Village Finance, based on the concept of mutual assistance.

Around Place du Jeu de Balle in the City of Brussels, several micro-businesses have also received support. ‘Business generates more business,’ says Pierre Gillet. For small project owners, specialist guidance and monitoring by experts is essential. ‘The goal is to work with other organisations that provide support and encourage the creation of business activities,’ he concludes. ‘This makes it possible to optimise projects’ opportunities and to encourage them right at the outset, when they need such input the most.’

Concrete help, then – and effective, because it is adapted to the reality of the Canal Area and its people.

Jean-Pierre Borloo

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