Basic Information

What is the name of your organization?

aire ventures, inc.

Is your organization registered as 501(c)(3) status with the IRS?


In what city, town, or region and state is your organization headquartered?

Miami, Florida, USA

Which dimension of the Challenge does your solution most closely address? [Select up to 2]

  • Financial readiness: Developing new or improved methods, or tools, that assist in financial preparation for loan acquisition, including assessing credit and assets, loan to debt ratio, cost of growth and information on alternative funding sources.
  • Business development & procurement: Connecting small business owners to vendors, suppliers, and networks that will transform their ability to do business.

What is the name of your solution?

Capital Connect: Unlocking Capital in Opportunity Zones

What is your solution?

Opportunity Connect supports low-to-moderate income BIPOC entrepreneurs in opportunity zone neighborhoods by creating communities of support at the neighborhood level, enriched by comprehensive high-touch entrepreneur support services. Our wrap-around service delivery model yields transformational and systemic change by supporting founders through their entire entrepreneurial journey from ideation to scaling of their model. OC increases access to capital and opportunity through its four prong approach: 

  1. Business planning training

  2. Character-based and alternative lending

  3. One-on-one technical assistance and individualized business growth consulting

  4. Physical location and business incubation 

With ‘Capital Connect,’ we aim to pilot a new community lending program in partnership with Zirtue. This solution aims to accelerate the traditional lending process offered by banking institutions and CDFIs by providing an alternative that leverages community relationships and lending based on a business training assessment and character.

Opportunity Connect will partner with Zirtue to develop a bespoke dashboard to track our microloan program for BIPOC entrepreneurs within opportunity zone neighborhoods. By leveraging their existing technology, we will be able to accelerate the traditional lending process by assessing businesses who have gone through our business planning and financial readiness program.
Capital Connect Case Study - Aamir Taylor of Italian Vice

Describe the core technology that powers your solution.

Opportunity Connect, a neighborhood initiative that aims to provide access to capital to BIPOC small businesses owners in opportunity zones, is partnering with Zirtue to deploy micro-loans to low-to-moderate income BIPOC entrepreneurs in our network. This will enable beneficiaries to unlock opportunities for growth and productivity in their businesses by removing traditional lending roadblocks that BIPOC founders face. 

The Opportunity Connect and Zirtue partnership couples our core competencies united in values of ambition, empathy, and ownership. OC has a network of entrepreneurs that we support throughout the term of their business to help rebuild and revitalize neighborhoods through 360° business support, community and capital.

Zirtue is a digital platform and mobile app designed to simplify and formalize personal loans and financial agreements between friends, family members, and acquaintances. Zirtue leverages technology to put people and community at the core of lending. Their technology provides a solution to track, manage, and facilitate ‘peer-to-peer’ lending arrangements, making it easier for people to lend money to each other, while maintaining transparency and minimizing potential conflicts. Zirtue’s technology has these key features:

  • Creates a Financial Agreement: Allows users to set up a formal financial agreement with the borrower to clarify the terms of the loan and avoid misunderstandings.

  • Secure Transactions: The platform facilitates secure transactions through a linked bank account or payment service, ensuring that the funds are transferred directly between the lender and the borrower. 

  • Automated Payment Tracking: The technology automatically tracks the loan's repayment progress to reduce the burden on the lender and borrower to manually keep track of repayments.

  • Social Trust and Transparency: The platform maintains transparency and trust between the parties involved by providing a formal agreement and a digital record of all transactions.

  • Community Building: The platform fosters a sense of community by encouraging responsible lending and borrowing within trusted circles.

Through the Capital Connect initiative, Zirtue's platform will enable us to deploy and track capital by building a customized dashboard for businesses within the OC network. Together, we will impact not only the funded businesses themselves, but the local community as a whole.

Which of the following categories best describes your solution?

A new application of an existing technology

Please select the technologies currently used in your solution:

  • Audiovisual Media
  • Software and Mobile Applications

Who does your solution serve, including demographics, and how does the solution impact their lives?

Our pilot program will focus on low-to-moderate income BIPOC entrepreneurs residing or doing business in 67 Miami-Dade county opportunity zones, but specifically in the Overtown, Allapattah, Little Haiti, Liberty City, and Miami Gardens neighborhoods. The initiative will remove barriers to access loans for unexpected business expenses, staffing, covering upfront costs for events and repairs, amongst others. In addition, this less traditional mode of lending has the potential to impact the financial health of businesses, as well as the mental health of the entrepreneurs in a positive way by removing financial stressors that traditionally affect founders of color. 

Some of the benefits of supporting underrepresented small businesses in opportunity zones include:

Economic Growth and Job Creation: By supporting small businesses in opportunity zones, you can stimulate local economies, create new job opportunities, and reduce unemployment rates in disadvantaged areas.

Community Development: When small businesses succeed, they reinvest in the community, which leads to improved infrastructure, better services, and a higher quality of life for residents.

Reduced Income Inequality: By providing job opportunities and support to small businesses in opportunity zones, more residents can access gainful employment and improve their economic circumstances.

Revitalization of Neglected Areas: Opportunity zones are typically designated in areas that have been historically neglected or face economic challenges. Supporting small businesses in these zones can lead to neighborhood revitalization and improved living conditions for residents.

Social Impact: Small businesses can have a positive social impact on their communities. They can sponsor local events, support charities, and engage in initiatives that benefit the people living in the area.

Explain how the problem you are addressing, the solution you have designed, and the population you are serving align with the Challenge.

Miami-Dade County has 67 opportunity zones, which are underserved and economically distressed neighborhoods in need of revitalization. We work to bring investment into these communities by supporting small businesses, as we believe that entrepreneurship provides a pathway to prosperity and a way to tackle the racial wealth gap. When we look at the current landscape, South Florida reports having approximately 6,204 Black-owned businesses, accounting only for 4% of overall businesses in the region. If Black-owned businesses were on par with the general population, there should be an additional 43,969 Black businesses in South Florida alone, growing and thriving. 

One explanation of this disparity is access to capital. The BIPOC entrepreneurs we serve do not have friends and family that are able to lend them money to start their business or take advantage of opportunities to grow their businesses as they arise. Hence, our Capital Connect solution directly eliminates barriers to entry for underrepresented founders, particularly in terms of financial access and readiness. Black entrepreneurs face significant disparities in business financing, receiving funding less than 1.2% of venture capital. Close to 40% of Black businesses are discouraged from applying for loans altogether. These statistics indicate that traditional funding options act as deterrents for minority owned businesses.

Our Capital Connect solution will leverage OC’s community relationships and holistic approach to disburse technology powered microloans to entrepreneurs in need. Centered around financial education, community support, and character-based lending we aim to empower Black-owned businesses in opportunity zones like Overtown.

What is your theory of change?

Our theory of change aims to establish an inclusive entrepreneurial ecosystem by promoting awareness, education, and equitable access to resources. This will be achieved through business development programs, diverse funding mechanisms, and mentorship networks, resulting in increased business success rates in opportunity zones.

Our program is modeled from the Neighborhood Development Center (NDC) in St. Paul, MN. The model has four key stages:

  • L1 - Entrepreneurial training course

  • L2 - Mission-based small business lending and financial resources

  • L3 - Individualized technical support

  • L4 - Physical space for business incubation and real estate

We are a member of the Build From Within Alliance, a network of organizations that have implemented the best practices of the NDC model to stimulate economic development through entrepreneurship.

Goal: To promote economic equity by supporting underrepresented entrepreneurs and closing systemic equity gaps in the business ecosystem.

Vision for Change: A thriving and inclusive entrepreneurial ecosystem where individuals from diverse backgrounds have equal opportunities to start and grow successful businesses.

Inputs and Activities:

1. Human Resources: Recruit and train a diverse team of mentors, advisors, and program facilitators to provide tailored support to underrepresented entrepreneurs.

2. Financial Resources: Secure funding from grants, sponsorships, and foundations to support the design and implementation of services.

3. Training and Development: Develop modules and workshops to build the skills and knowledge of the target group.

4. Outreach: Conduct targeted marketing campaigns to reach and inform entrepreneurs about available opportunities.

5. Monitoring and Evaluation: Monitor and evaluate the impact of support programs to make improvements and adjustments.


  1. 1:1 Support: Entrepreneurs gain wraparound support throughout the course of their businesses increasing the probability of success.

  2. Business Infrastructure: Entrepreneurs receive legal and accounting advice needed to set up the their businesses, opening up opportunities for capital. 

  3. Financial Access: Entrepreneurs benefit from grant and lending partnerships we source, as well as business incubation opportunities.


1. Increased representation of diverse entrepreneurs in the ecosystem.

2. Improved access to funding and resources for underrepresented entrepreneurs.

3. Reduction in systemic barriers and biases that hinder underrepresented entrepreneurs' progress.

What is your solution’s stage of development?

Pilot: a product, service, or business model that is in the process of being built and tested with a small number of beneficiaries or working to gain traction.

What is your organization’s stage of development?

Growth: A registered 501(c)(3) organization with an established product, service, or business model rolled out in one or, ideally, several communities, which is poised for further growth and has a proven track record with an annual operating budget
More About Your Solution

How many small businesses does your solution currently serve?

The OC and Zirtue teams are currently working on designing the Capital Connect pilot program. Although we haven’t begun deploying the initiative, the OC network has over 80 entrepreneurs that are active beneficiaries of our support services. Leveraging our current community of entrepreneurs and our network of 40+ partner organizations throughout Miami-Dade County, we aim to deploy the following: 

  • Year 1: $50,000 in short-term microloans of up to $5,000 to 10-20 entrepreneurs to pilot the program

  • Year 5: $1+ million fund that deploys microloans within the 16 Build From Within Alliance partner organizations, 50 neighborhoods and 2,000+ businesses in our network 

To make this happen we have secured $50,000 in funds from Allegany Franciscan Ministries to begin piloting Capital Connect in Overtown, and we are seeking matching funding sources to leverage and grow the impact of the initiative.

How do you define the community you serve, and who are its stakeholders?

OC focuses on serving low-to-moderate income BIPOC entrepreneurs residing or doing business in opportunity zone neighborhoods.  The businesses we support benefit from increased investment, better infrastructure, and the potential for additional customers and economic activity as the community improves. We intentionally convene a network of stakeholders throughout the communities we serve to create micro-ecosystems of support for local small businesses. Additional stakeholders include: 

  • Local residents: Primary demographic residing within opportunity zones.They’re the people directly affected and who stand to benefit from investments that lead to job creation and better infrastructure.

  • Government: We work with the neighborhood community redevelopment agency and City of Miami who promote economic growth and fostering safe neighborhoods. 

  • Community organizations: We partner with several community organizations that represent the interests of residents, particularly on projects that bring businesses into Overtown.

How do you build trust within the community your organization serves and among small business owners?

Since our inception in 2018, we have focused on positioning our organization within the communities we serve. As an example, in our pilot neighborhood of Overtown we have established a presence in the community by working with 80+ entrepreneurs facilitating sessions accessible to residents. We have also been able to establish direct relationships with over 40 community stakeholders, such as the Overtown Community Redevelopment Agency, Overtown Business Association, and local community centers.

We utilize both ‘on the ground’ marketing and digital marketing with a targeted newsletter to reach people in the community. We facilitate weekly and monthly coaching sessions and workshops for businesses, both available in person and online. By having a consistent schedule of programming, our entrepreneurs can stay plugged into our community beyond a 6-8 week program. This also enables us to build real and lasting relationships with the entrepreneurs we support.

What are your impact goals for the current year and the next five years and how will you achieve them?

Our yearly goals are directly correlated to our program pillars of offering programming, technical support, access to capital, and business incubation opportunities:

• Offer weekly & monthly programming for consistent support; since April, we’ve offered over 67 sessions through 1:1 coaching, workshops and technical assistance with 55 attendees. We expect to surpass over 100 sessions this year.

• Help entrepreneurs secure capital through microloans and grants; we have assisted 5 businesses in receiving $294,966 in capital since April. We aim to double that by EOY.

• Build out the Overtown 1896 Marketplace to incubate OC businesses in partnership with community organizations. We’re currently in negotiations for a space. Our vision is to connect community partners and resources in a movement to circulate over $100 million to BIPOC entrepreneurs in opportunity zones. We are on a mission to achieve this by:

  • providing business support services in opportunity zones to build a lasting legacy that redefines neighborhoods.

  • deploying capital, resources, and assistance to entrepreneurs to generate revenue for their businesses and communities.

  • establishing 5 partner zones that generate $20 million in each opportunity zone over 10 years.

We have currently circulated close to $4 million in opportunity zones in Miami. Our ambitious goal to see $100 million dollars circulated in these zones will establish a movement of support for anchor businesses to transform these neighborhoods. 

Partnership & Award Funding Opportunities

Why are you applying to Truist Foundation Inspire Awards?

We believe that the Truist Foundation and Aire Ventures/Opportunity Connect are mission aligned in supporting BIPOC entrepreneurs and intentionally providing tools and resources to help level the playing field. We know the ability to start and sustain a business is a viable pathway to prosperity for building generational wealth. We welcome the opportunity to work alongside other organizations who are working on solutions to remove barriers and provide more access to those who have been historically excluded.

We are looking forward to learning and engaging with impact leaders across the country, while also amplifying the need to invest in opportunity zones. Having access to capacity building resources and industry best practices from MIT Solve would be invaluable to our team. Testing and piloting our solution alongside during the 6 month program will position us to further deploy our concept across our partner network of 16 organizations, serving 50 neighborhoods and over 2,000 businesses within the Build From Alliance network. 

In which of the following areas do you most need partners or support?

  • Human Capital (e.g. sourcing talent, board development, etc.)
  • Business model (e.g. product-market fit, strategy & development)
  • Monitoring & Evaluation (e.g. collecting/using data, measuring impact)

Please explain in more detail here.

We want to engage with other organizations working on building career pathways to economic mobility and strengthening small businesses. We welcome the opportunity to convene and learn from other leaders working in the space, as well as engaging other organizations in the Truist network. We have ambitions on seeing bigger, long term investments in opportunity zones lead by the communities with the support of organizations like ours. We are constantly refining and streamlining our data collection processes to find more ways to measure impact in the work we do to further build a movement in these neighborhoods. We work so closely with our businesses and communities, and know that much of the work we do is based on long term outcomes. Being a part of the Truist network of organizations will help broaden our perspective as we trial more solutions for more immediate gains for our entrepreneurs.

Solution Team

  • ME ME
    Melody Estrada Managing Director, Opportunity Connect
  • OG OG
    Omar Guerrero Entrepreneur success manager, Opportunity Connect
  • Adrienne C. McWilliams Executive Director, Aire Ventures/Opportunity Connect
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