Taking a Chance on Entrepreneurs
January 1, 2011
Although Kathy Ricci has a sister, it was living with four brothers that had the greater impact on her life. Because of this interaction from an early age, it always bothered her when people would say, “You can’t do that because you’re a girl.”
“What does that mean?” she remembers asking herself. “It never occurred to me that I couldn’t do something because I was a girl.”
Ricci has used this determination to not only help herself succeed, but to offer opportunities to others through her work at the Utah Microenterprise Loan Fund (UMLF). The mission of the UMLF, where Ricci currently serves as executive director, is to provide financing and management support to “entrepreneurs in startup and existing firms that do not have access to traditional funding sources, especially those who are socially and economically disadvantaged.”
The mission of UMLF has become Ricci’s own personal mission as she reaches out to women, minorities and others in the low/moderate income community, who are often left behind by other funding options. “Our clients are typically not able to qualify for traditional bank funding,” she says. “We’re considered kind of a lender of last resort.”
While Ricci readily admits that her first love was music, she “went into business because I thought it would apply to a lot of things and [could] be used in lots of different areas. I was wanting and needing to make a living. I couldn’t do that in music.” Out of college, she went to work for American Savings and Loan as an internal auditor, but didn’t feel it was a right fit.
“I hated being just a cog in the corporate wheel,” she recalls. “I [didn’t] want to be just one of hundreds of people.” From there she moved on to the Small Business Development Center (located then on the campus of the University of Utah) and then to UMLF in 1996.
“I got to go from counseling businesses to helping them get money,” she says.
As a young girl, Ricci defined success as being “able to afford to have a horse and a swimming pool. That was my motivation.” While she’s still waiting for the horse, she now defines success in different terms.
“This is more than a job,” she says. “[UMLF] provides a good balance in life. . . . I want to work hard, but I don’t want to be at the office for 60 to 70 hours. I want to have time for a life.”
Music is still important to Ricci. She enjoys playing the piano and loves listening to rock and roll, R&B—just about anything, as long as it’s not country. “Music really touches me. I get goose bumps when I hear certain music. That really touches me the most. If I can turn up the stereo and go out and garden, I’m happy.”
She still wonders, however, how she ended up in the nonprofit realm when she had all those earlier aspirations.
“The big bucks are not there, but I love the work and have an impact on [my clients],” she says. “It is a huge thing to be able to say to them, ‘We believe in you and will take a chance on you’. You get to learn something new from every single person who comes through the door.”