It doesn't take a lot of brain power to guess what Mission Belt does--its name says it all. The belt startup, which has a charitable mission to fight hunger and poverty, hit a huge milestone in pursuit of that objective.

The Orem, Utah-based company has lent $1.5 million, or 60,000 micro-loans, to small business owners around the world, the company announced Monday. The startup partnered with Kiva, a nonprofit that lets people lend money to low-income entrepreneurs in developing countries, when it launched in 2012.

"We are excited about the effect that our belts are having on people," says Zac Holzapfel, 36, a co-founder of Mission Belt. "[These are people] fighting to provide for themselves and hopefully develop a business to break the poverty cycle."

For every belt sold, the company puts $1 in a Kiva fund that is lent out to borrowers in more than 80 developing countries. These loans go to small-business owners and are used to buy things like cows or chickens, not expensive factory equipment.

Mission Belt selects which individuals receive the loans, says Holzapfel, adding that the company puts an emphasis on female entrepreneurs in developing countries because statistics show they are better with their money than their male counterparts. Holzapfel says 64 percent of the borrowers from Mission Belt's fund have been women.

"It doesn't cost a lot to give a hand up, not a hand not out," Holzapfel says. "They don't need a bag of rice, they need to grow rice."

Of the companies that have partnered with Kiva, Mission Belt is the seventh-largest business contributor of all time, behind behemoths like Pepsi and HP. What's more, the startup is regularly in the top five businesses lending on Kiva each month, in terms of amount lent, according to the nonprofit. Kiva and its lenders do not receive interest on loans and borrowers have a 97.1 percent repayment rate.

"More and more successful businesses are turning toward social impact as a key part of their brand promise, and Mission Belt is one of those shining examples of doing well while doing good," Jason Riggs, senior director of communications at Kiva, said in an email. "Since joining Kiva in 2012, Mission Belt has become one of our largest supporters, lending hope and opportunity through small loans to tens of thousands around the world."

All of this wouldn't be possible without the backbone to the business: belts. The company sells leather belts that don't use the traditional hole-and-insert method, but a ratchet buckle system instead. This keeps the product from stretching out or showing large holes. What's more, they can be adjusted every quarter of an inch, unlike traditional belts that have a hole every inch. The belts and buckles cost between $20 and $40 and can be purchased online or in retail stores.

Holzapfel launched Mission Belt in 2012 with his brother Nate and business partner Jeff Jensen. After three months of business, the company appeared on Shark Tank. Nate made the on-air pitch and Daymond John took a bite, offering $50,000 for 37.5 percent of the company.

The company was self-funded and not desperate for cash, but wanted a mentor and the exposure Shark Tank could give them. After the episode aired, they got a surge in business and a phone call from John--he offered to drop the high equity deal and work on getting them licensing deals instead. They agreed and John has served as a mentor ever since.

To date, Mission Belt has made just under $25 million in revenue. In 2012, after several months of operation, Mission Belt made $80,000 in revenue. A year later, they earned $3 million and have seen steady increases every year. In 2016, they pulled in $8.2 million and have already made $2 million this year.

"From the get-go, I wanted our business to have a philanthropic wing," Holzapfel says. "We are going to have a mission behind it...that was important to us."

Published on: Mar 28, 2017