As editors working at the Daily Targum in 2007, Rohan Mathew and Joe Shure witnessed New Brunswick booming with construction projects. They also saw that many city residents didn’t have a part in the renaissance, unable to find suitable work. With the Intersect Fund, they’re working to change that.
Crossroads of Commerce
Mathew and Shure, who both graduated from Rutgers in 2009, noticed that many unemployed and marginally employed New Brunswick residents had tried to start small businesses. The failure to find seed money, assemble a business plan, or, in the case of the growing Latino population, to overcome language barriers sabotaged aspirations.
That awareness of a local problem explains why Mathew was so excited when he learned about a win-win business model created by Grameen Bank in Bangladesh. The bank provided budding entrepreneurs with no-collateral loans. In exchange, the entrepreneurs had to join a financial support group. An all-for-one mentality proved to promote sustainable business practices. The program won the bank a Nobel Peace Prize in 2006.
Inspired, Mathew and Shure launched the Intersect Fund, a nonprofit organization that provides seed money to nascent businesses and relies on student volunteers to train and advise local entrepreneurs. The fund, whose name refers to the intersection of campus and community, allows students to apply their knowledge while beneficiaries gain a pathway to economic self-sufficiency.
Initial grants, including $25,000 from real estate developer Paul V. Profeta, a fund board member, got the ball rolling. In November 2008, three prospective entrepreneurs attended the first business-training course, which takes place weekends. Local organizations, such as Magyar Bank and Elijah’s Promise, rotate hosting duties. Since then, according to Shure, more than 100 entrepreneurs have received lessons from the 20 Rutgers student volunteers—many doubling as translators—in marketing, pricing, and cash flow. The fund offers a range of inexpensive services from graphic design to tax preparation.
Spreading the Idea
Mathew and Shure are convinced that their creation could spread beyond New Brunswick. In October, the Intersect Fund hosted the first gathering of student-run programs to support microenterprises, attracting like-minded students and young alumni from Cornell, Brown, and Yale universities to a New Brunswick conference to develop a vision for collaboration and discuss best practices.
“We can envision every college campus in the country someday providing similar services in their communities,” says Shure. “As long as Rutgers students are passionate about serving their community, the Intersect Fund will thrive."
Gown Helps Town
Rutgers works closely with the city of New Brunswick in myriad ways to help the community. The university has supported the Intersect Fund by:
• Contributing about four percent of the organization’s total fundraising of about $180,000
• Donating 10 used iMac computers to create the fund’s entrepreneurship lab
• Donating $2,500 from the Office of Academic Engagement and Programming to help the fund host a conference