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AEO supports the development of strong and effective U.S. microenterprise initiatives to assist underserved entrepreneurs in starting, stabilizing, and expanding businesses.
AEO was founded in 1991 during a convening, in Berkeley, California, where over 150 practitioners from over 100 microenterprise development organizations nationwide convened. Recognizing the opportunity and value of learning together, the convening participants decided AEO's mission would be to serve as the forum and voice for individuals and organizations committed to expanding enterprise opportunity for people and communities with limited access to economic resources, and to serve as the catalyst for responsible industry growth.
Also at that time, AEO defined microenterprise development and coined the word "microentrepreneur" to describe a particular kind of business owner. Today, microenterprise is defined as a business with five or fewer employees, which requires $35,000 or less in start up capital. Microenterprise development is the provision of support to microenterprise owners (or microentrepreneurs).
The roots of U.S. microenterprise development sprung from economic programs that arose as a result of the women's movement in the late 1960s. By the 1980s it was evident that an important new economic strategy was developing. As microenterprise development practitioner pioneers began innovative programs in scattered rural and urban areas nationwide, it became evident that an organized communication structure was needed to share knowledge, resources, challenges, and best practices among established and developing microenterprise development programs.
From 1991 to 1999, AEO was headquartered in Chicago, Illinois. During the late 1990s the microenterprise development field identified the need for stronger advocacy efforts in support of federally funded microenterprise development programs. In 1999, to have closer access to policy makers on Capitol Hill, AEO moved to its current location in Arlington, Virginia- just across the Potomac River from the Washington, DC.
Today, AEO is an exciting and flourishing organization and the only national member-based association in the microenterprise development industry. Its membership has grown to include not only practitioners, but also advocates, public agencies, funders, individuals, and others who share in AEO's mission.