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2/14/2011
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Micro-Funding Site Integrates With LinkedIn, Facebook

40billion.com lets entrepreneurs connect to social media to seek funding from contacts.

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Online micro-funding and social media company 40Billion.com released integrated tools on Monday that let members connect to the site using their existing Facebook and LinkedIn profiles.

Atlanta-based 40Billion.com features proprietary online tools that entrepreneurs use to create social networks designed to raise funding, inviting members of their network to provide money in exchange for potential returns or discounts, according to the site.

To access the company’s latest tool, 40Billion.com users click either the "Sign in with LinkedIn" or "Sign in with Facebook" button, and then enter their email and password, the site said. The funding site logs in, automatically generating the user's profile, which includes his or her photo, education, interests, and other information.

"Social networking sites are extremely popular with 90 million users on LinkedIn and 500 million users on Facebook, and many of the people using those sites for professional and personal social networking could use 40Billion also to raise money and grow businesses by leveraging their existing social networks," said Cornelius McNab, 40Billion.com’s founder and CEO, in a statement.

Users also can import existing contacts from email programs such as Gmail, Yahoo Mail, AOL, and Outlook. And the program suggests new contacts that the 40Billion.com member may know through past associations or similar interests.

40Billion.com may be one of the newer entrants in the micro-loan space, but it is not alone. By 2013, the online person-to-person micro-lending market will reach $5 billion, according to Gartner. At least 1.5 billion people need some kind of micro-loan, wrote Adrian Gonzalez of the Microfinance Information Exchange, and Richard Rosenberg of the Consultative Group to Assist the Poor, in a 2006 report, updated in 2010. Yet microfinance institutions were serving only about 100 million working poor, they said.

"Private microfinance is profitable and stable enough to move into the mainstream financial system," said Gonzalez and Rosenberg. Micro-loan groups may charge a percentage of the loan, for example.

To-date, more than $192.3 million-worth of loans have been made through Kiva, a micro-loan site with more than 876,000 members and lenders in 210 countries, according to the organization. For its part, United Prosperity -- which has garnered the support of many IT businesses such as Cognizant, Google, and NetSuite -- has enabled 850 families to receive micro-loans of $165,000 between May 2009 and June 2010, the group said.

Grameen Bank has been operating since 1976, long before the Internet became part of many peoples' lives. It is a "banking system based on mutual trust, accountability, participation, and creativity," according to the Bangladeshi organization. Founder Muhammad Yunus received the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize and President Barack Obama presented him with the 2009 Presidential Medial of Honor.

Unlike Kiva, Grameen, and United Prosperity, which typically focus on the less fortunate or people unable to get loans from more traditional providers, 40Billion.com is targeting entrepreneurs and small-business owners hoping to complement or avoid bank loans, credit card debt, and tapping family members -- as well as individuals and investors hoping to discover the next Facebook, Twitter, or Zynga. Social media can let small investors acquire an ownership stake in a new business, said McNab in a statement.

"For example, imagine you need to raise $40,000, and you invite 40 friends to contribute $100 each in support of your startup. You may even propose to reward them with a free trial or discount when your business is up-and-running. Each of your 40 friends invites 40 more friends to contribute. Together, 40 x 40 = 1,600 people helping to raise money for your business. If just one out of every four contributes $100, then you’ll easily reach your target," according to 40Billion.com.

Last month, 40Billion.com debuted social networking tools for students and alumni to raise money for businesses. The college-focused product includes many of the same capabilities as the company's business-oriented Web site, but emphasizes members' educational roots, allegiance, and classmates.

Since being founded in 2008, 40Billion.com has facilitated more than $30 million in loans, the company said. In addition to raising money for new ventures, entrepreneurs also tap the site to find new customers and find other resources, according to 40Billion.com.

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