STLMade Conversations:
NANO Lending

Okay, so: Tell us how NANO Lending got started.

When I really got started with NANO Lending, it all started with one individual. His name was Darris Buckner, and his statement was, “if only I had my own power washer,” and this was in response to him losing his power-washing job while struggling to raise his two daughters and care for his elderly mother.

At the time I was in Parkway School District’s Spark! entrepreneurship program. It really got me thinking about the cost of a power washer compared to what he could earn once he had one, and it seemed like it was the best option to provide him with that funding to purchase a power washer.

So he was the very first person that I was able to fund, and now he’s actually very successful and has multiple contracts with local businesses to power-wash them on a regular basis. And that’s really where NANO began.

 What inspired you to create NANO Lending?

When I went down to Destiny Family Church and Shelter, and I spoke to some of the unhoused individuals at that shelter, one individual said, “entrepreneurship is rampant in this community,” in a good way – that everyone who was unhoused was already an entrepreneur in order to get the necessary amount of things that they needed to survive on a daily basis. At the time, he was collecting and selling scrap metal, one example of entrepreneurship.

I think that really showed me that entrepreneurship, especially for impoverished and unhoused individuals, was definitely a viable idea to help uplift them and empower them out of their current situation.

I noticed that a lot of these unhoused individuals already had the skills necessary to exit their situation and realizing that all they needed was that initial minimal amount of resources in order to get them started.

That’s really where NANO attempts to help and has a role.

Tell us about the Parkway School District’s Spark! program.

This entrepreneurship program is incredible because it allows students to really start their own businesses, become entrepreneurs and gain a lot of real-world experience. And so each and every day at Spark!, I’m able to continue to grow NANO and talk to different individuals around the city to help get more ideas for it.

What has surprised you about this experience?

I think one of the biggest ones was how effective some of these individuals have been, in being able to take an idea, because everything starts with that idea, and then really able to generate a very successful business.

And one of the great examples of this is Benita, who was an unhoused individual at the Gateway 180 shelter, and she was already very skilled in cooking. And so with a Chromebook and a grill, she started her own catering business. Within the first 90 days of that catering business, she generated over $20,000 in revenue, which is absolutely incredible. And it’s one of those stories, which is really indicative of a lot of others who NANO has been able to help, who have really been able to become very successful very quickly through entrepreneurship and through starting their own business.

What has been the most meaningful part of this for you?

One of the biggest things was when one of the individuals told me, “This is my dream.” And I think that throughout all of this, what NANO has really helped and what I’ve had the opportunity to do is really be a part of someone else’s dream and really try to support that dream and try to take what was once a dream and turn that into a reality.

And I think that for each individual that NANO is able to help, the most significant aspect to me is doing what’s necessary to take a dream, what someone has in their mind, and turn that into reality.

What are your goals for the future?

I think that in terms of myself, I definitely want to go to college and pursue something in the form of political science and economics, a combination of both of those. 

In the future, I’d love to really be able to grow NANO to something that’s even more national or international, and am already working towards this by converting some of the workshops that were previously being done in person, whether that’s the business incubator meetings or the workshops, taking those and recording them and transferring them to a more online format so that people around the nation or around even the world can really be able to utilize them. 

This story has been condensed and edited for clarity by Lauren Harms Milford.

Join the Story