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LOHS grad co-founder of nonprofit

Jeff Wells and his fellow students created a young innovators organization while in college


by: REVIEW PHOTO: JILLIAN DALEY - A Review article featured Jeff Wells in 2004.A decade ago, Jeff Wells appeared in the Review as a beaming Lake Oswego Junior High seventh-grader wearing a Quicksilver hoodie, seated next to a computer displaying the website he built with his father.

Back in 2003, Wells and his father created Kids R Authors, featuring the young man’s writing and other students’ work. Jeff Wells, a sixth grader at the time, asked staff at Oak Creek Elementary School to link to his page from the school website and told his Talented and Gifted teacher about his project, who then shared the information with other schools.

For his creative venture, Wells earned a $500 national TAG scholarship. Then in 2004, he earned the distinction of being an Oregon Senate Honorary Page for a day, even getting to try out the governor’s chair.by: SUBMITTED PHOTO - Jeff Wells participated in the Honorary Page for a day program in 2004, even sitting in the governor's chair.

Flash forward to 2010, and the young man graduates from Lake Oswego High, and then, present day, he is a senior at Arizona State University who was part of a core group of innovators to found a nonprofit, volunteer-run organization, Arizona Microcredit Initiative.

Students at Barrett, The Honor College located at the university, run AMI, which offers education and loans, guiding business through formulating and bettering their business model.

“We stay away from a formal business plan because it forces small business owners to make hard decisions early on and write a plan — and then they do not feel comfortable deviating from the plan,” said Wells, a computer engineering major slated to graduate this May.Jeff Wells

Instead, the group focuses on teaching “how to target the right customers with the right product,” Wells said.

He said some people think they just need money to achieve their dream, but that’s not always true.

“First they need a good product and an idea of how to most effectively market and distribute that product to customers,” he said. “After we help them achieve that, we can lend them money to help them scale and grow.”

He helped lead a fundraising effort to collect $70,000 from private donors to make the program possible, and he used to serve as AMI’s executive director, leading a 16-person team, and he now serves in an advisory role on the executive board.

“One of our largest challenges is creating a student organization that will live on after the founders graduate,” he said.

The group’s loans run from $1,000 to $5,000 and are legally binding contracts with 10 percent interest. So far, AMI has distributed $12,000 in loans. Clients repaid every dime.

“The awesome part about this system is that we can take those loan payments and recycle the money to give more loans,” Wells said.

LeAnn Wells said her son is “a bright young man with a fun and engaging personality” as well as a passion for new ventures.

“It has been great to see him incorporate his enthusiasm for entrepreneurship with reaching out to the Phoenix community to help small business owners achieve success,” she said. “... It will be fun to watch where Jeff’s talents and heart take him.”by: REVIEW FILE PHOTO: ALANDRA JOHNSON - Jeff Wells won an award for a website he created as a child.
By Jillian Daley
Reporter
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