The Skinny blog is written by Rick Smith, editor and co-founder of WRAL Tech Wire and business editor of

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. – One of the most intriguing startups The Skinny has encountered in recent years across the Triangle is hosting a kickoff reception and a celebration of sorts on Monday night.

Pengo Loans.

The new venture is the brainchild of UNC-CH graduates and friends Dara Keatts and Jess Shorland who want to connect investors with growing companies in Kenya.

With the backing of such Triangle investors as Ryan Allis (co-founder and CEO of recently acquired iContact), the two have already vetted several investment opportunities in theirn initial target market – Kenya. They also have been raising money from backers here who will provide the capital for loans to Kenyan firms.

Pengo is Swahili for “gap,” and the two entrepreneurs want to help the Kenyan firms secure funding to take them to a higher level of growth.

“We would love to have you there as we celebrate with our current investors and other Pengo supporters,” wrote Keatts, the CEO, in an email.

“This first year has been a long, exhilarating road and we have plenty of challenges and exciting adventures ahead,” she added. “Please join us as we pause for a moment to celebrate our progress and toast to Pengo’s bright future.”

The reception is taking place at iContact’s headquarters in Morrisville.

“We don’t target start-ups,” Keatts noted of Pengo’s strategy. “That’s more of what microfinance companies like Kiva are doing.

“Our goal is to get growth capital to established, small and medium size businesses who have made it through at least 18 months of operations and are demonstrating positive revenue growth, but that cannot get loans from local financial institutions, because of strict collateral requirements and highly risk-averse local banks.”

Keatts and Shorland recently presented the Pengo concept to potential investors at a “Launch Day” event back in January. But even before that public pitch Keatts and Shorland had convinced Triangle backers as Allis and Jud Bowman, CEO at Appia, that they had a solid business plan and the moxie to carry it out.

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