In one simple Zoom meeting with the owner of the local ice cream shop Elaka Treats, Build the Hill students sparked opportunities for the company to transform from a small-scale kitchen into a wholesale.
“At that moment that we connected, even over Zoom in the middle of the pandemic, it was a really strong connection that I felt and a very big sense of purpose,” Benny Lispector, treasurer of Build the Hill said.
Build the Hill is affiliated with the Campus Y and was founded in 2014. Its mission is to alleviate poverty by promoting sustainable small business growth in Chapel Hill and the greater Triangle area, according to its website. One of these businesses is Elaka Treats — a dessert business run by Shafna Shamsuddin.
Build the Hill students said Elaka Treats' business growth was partially made possible by a micro-loan from the organization. The loan was awarded after Build the Hill analyzed the business’s credibility, mission and personality.
“She is just such a powerful female entrepreneur," co-president Lynelle Huskey said of Shafna. "We had such a great conversation. She's raising her kids but also running this business. And so I think just getting to hear from her and learn from her definitely was the most inspiring experience that I've had.”
Build the Hill works to find businesses that would be impacted by zero-interest micro-loans and credits to improve their ventures when the business can not get a loan through traditional means. Zero-interest micro-loans mean that only the principal balance must be paid back without additional fees.
The volunteer-based nonprofit initiative works to strengthen ties between UNC and the Town of Chapel Hill so students can connect with community members that may not be directly involved with the University.
“Our first goal when talking with someone is just understanding who they are as a person,” Huskey said.
Build the Hill provides one or two loans a semester while also giving students an introductory knowledge of microfinance and allowing them to get hands-on experience in the field. The loans come from a limited amount of resources and fundraising.