Kikuno Kashima, a Tokyo geisha, couldn’t get a bank loan to open a club for her patrons and select guests until a tiny credit union agreed to lend her the money. Now she’s part of a lending model that’s doling out cash to startup companies and yielding surprisingly high profits in the process.

“Nothing would ever have started if they hadn’t lent me the money,” said Kashima, 41, who sometimes plays a shamisen at the establishment she opened in Tokyo’s Asakusa district with a loan of ¥15 million. “People who borrow, myself included, have been turned down all over the place, and finally someone has trusted us enough to lend.”

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