How It Started

As a junior, Nathan Bernard pitched an idea to Ken Freeman, the Dean of the School of Management (SMG) at Boston University, about providing microfinancing to Boston-area small businesses. The dean was interested, but wanted more details.

During his senior year, Bernard’s goal was to apply his skills in an arena that would help others, particularly in underserved areas of the city, and in the process hopefully create his own job. He worked with numerous members of the School’s Institute for Technology and Entrepreneurship Commercialization (ITEC) community and was eventually steered to SMG Strategy & Innovation Lecturer Erik Molander, who became the program’s mentor.

Part of Bernard’s preparation involved door-to-door research—he interviewed more than 180 small companies to ascertain their needs. Through his previous international experience he discussed the concept with the organization ACCION, a global nonprofit that has been microlending for years. People in the local office of ACCION told Bernard that businesses first need better organized financials and bookkeeping in order to apply for loans.

“Then it all clicked,” Bernard says. “Microlending is covered. We shifted to thinking this would be a superb opportunity for students to get hands-on experience and for businesses to get much-needed help in an area where they probably lacked expertise. Plus it was a much better way for students to see small businesses up close, and help those entrepreneurs advance, financially and educationally.” He went back to the dean with his revised plan and the dean was impressed—so much so that he suggested the names of a few alumni who might be willing to help Bernard finance the project. Joel Carlton-Gysan and Jeffery Khan, both of the development and alumni office at BU, provided guidance in successfully working with the alumni.

With funding secured, Bernard recruited students and businesses for the pilot program. The BUBA pilot launched in the summer of 2012 with two local businesses in Dorchester, MA. Two student teams consisting of two MBAs and six undergraduates collaborated closely with the businesses providing financial education and applying their business acumen to recommend new processes to support business-specific goals.