Let's face it: most companies don't have the kind of growth plans and potential returns needed to attract venture capitalists. If you're on that end of the spectrum -- and you're truly strapped for a small amount of start-up capital -- here's another possibility. An increasing number of nonprofit organizations are providing loans through a Small Business Administration program that gives so-called microloans to qualified entrepreneurs who need amounts too small to interest commercial banks. Launched in June 1992, the microloan program was recently expanded from 47 participating lenders to 96. They come from 44 states, Washington D.C., and Puerto Rico.

Like venture capital, a microloan is not for everyone: many of the programs are restricted to a particular region, and some target certain groups, such as women, in their marketing. The common element? Borrowers are "people who don't have much of a chance at banks because of who they are and how much they're seeking," says SBA spokesperson Mike Stamler. For more information and a list of approved microlenders by state, contact your district SBA office.

-- Alessandra Bianchi