Reno Rebuild's river of nickels is about to begin doing some good.
The program launched by a trio of young business owners has been painstakingly collecting a nickel from every transaction at the entrepreneurs' Reno restaurants and bars for the better part of a year, and $20,000 now is available for loans finance startup businesses.
The Reno Rebuild Fund last week began accepting applications for its first loans.
The program expects to make at least one low-interest loan by June to a help a startup or expanding, independently owned small business in Reno or Sparks. The application deadline is March 15.
Rebuild Reno was launched in early 2012 by Michael Connolly, Chris Kahl and Zach Cage, who own Legends Grill, Sports & Spirits in south Reno and The Brewer's Cabinet, the Sierra Tap House, Ole Bridge Pub in downtown Reno.
Connolly said last week the $20,000 loan fund is composed almost entirely of money generated by a nickel-per-transaction pledge that the three partners made last spring. The one addition is a $150 contribution from another business owner who wanted to aid the effort.
"We've gotten a lot of good feedback," Connolly said, although he said some fellow business owners questioned whether the three partners really wanted to take on the complexities of the Reno Rebuild initiative.
Cage, Kahl and Connolly enlisted the help of the Community Foundation of Western Nevada to administer the loan program, and Tracy Turner of the foundation's staff hammered out the details of the loan program. (Applications are available through www.nevadafund.org.)
"They've been a real help as they walked us through the whole process," Connolly said.
From the cool idea kicked around by Kahl, Cage and Connolly one night, Turner developed a five-page application process that requests background about a startup business that's applying for funds as well as the sorts of training and mentoring that the startup founders' might need.
The selection committee will include representatives of the Reno Rebuild Fund founders as well as outsiders. They've been told, Connolly said, to expect some hard work with site visits followed by a day of interviewing finalists in April.
Complicating the selection process is a requirement that the startups who seek loans be community focused and community involved. The program also hopes to encourage businesses that occupy properties that currently are vacant.
Even while the first loan applications are considered, the four establishments continue to collect a nickel per transaction to further build the Reno Rebuild Fund.
Those nickels, Connolly said, will be augmented by repayments from the first borrowers to build an ever-increasing fund to help independent startups.
He points to the slogan on the Reno Rebuild Web site: "It doesn't matter how slow you go so long as you do not stop."