2018-03-28 / Front Page

La Guardia Small Business Meeting Entitled Scaling Up Small Businesses in Queens

By Thomas Cogan
Last week, a breakfast meeting called Scaling Up Small Businesses in Queens was held at La Guardia Community College.  Accompanying literature said that the borough has about 43,000 businesses with 20 or fewer workers, which represents an increase of nearly one-third in volume since 2000.  That seems good news but a less happy report said that many of these small businesses don’t appear bound to become medium-sized.  Constant entrepreneurial enterprise creation often has led to situations of stagnation, bringing to mind a sometime complaint of corporative critics who say that at best these small businesses, beloved of many, are really just going round in circles.

The meeting, the second in a five-borough series being staged by Center for an Urban Future, featured a panel of small business developers, at least one of them concerned for the immigrants who do much of that developing.  Other panelists included a city official and the executive director of CUF, who moderated the meeting.  When questions from the audience were taken, more entrepreneurs checked in, all of them with interesting experiences and few if any of them contented to go round in circles.

Among those making initial remarks, Gail Mellow, president of La Guardia Community College, said that she admired small business entrepreneurs, who have to have guts for the risks they are taking.  City Councilman Donovan Richards said small businesses are the lifeblood of communities but often are not treated as such by the likes of overzealous inspectors and big box stores seeking to force discipline on them or overwhelm them by the power of their size. 

The panel was introduced by Executive Director of CUF Jonathan Bowles, who began with Gregg Bishop, commissioner of the New York City Small Business Administration and then went to Seth Bornstein, executive director of the Queens Economic Development Corporation; Sean Peckett, co-founder of Soccer Friends USA; Yanki Tshering, founder and executive director of Business Center for New Americans; and Gloria Abreu, founder and care coordinator, Family United Home Care.  

Bowles began by asking the panelists what they believe is necessary to keep their businesses going and growing, or problematical about it.  Yanki Tshering said her friends in business told her high rent and getting access to capital would be difficult and they were right.  Finding time and money to afford coaching is also hard.  Gloria Abreu said she took her personal experiences and made a business out of them.  On getting started she found she had to establish time management, especially since she had children at home.  Then she had to hire employees who were skillful and reliable. 

Sean Peckett, who with a partner founded a soccer school for youth, said that they have grown it considerably since starting out with nothing more than what they believed was a good idea and subsequently attracting great interest in it.  He said he finds having a head for figures is necessary, because growth is fine but must be quantified, physically and financially.  The growth they have achieved has made it necessary for them to hire employees.  His problem, as he put it to the panel and the audience, is to find land for athletic fields, before it all gets paved over.  He said that Borough President Melinda Katz has been quite helpful, introducing him to Parks Department officials and advising him how to deal with them.

Seth Bornstein repeated much of what those before him in effect said, that it is essential to be a good manager and delegate responsibility.  Some of the hardest-working persons might be irresponsible in assuming too much work to themselves.  Rather, they should “let go” and hire employees who can help move the enterprise forward.  The QEDC has a site at 36-46 37th St. that contains incubators for food and beverage entrepreneurs.  Bornstein said a business can be gained by working a concept to see where it might succeed.  He said that entrepreneurs “have stories to tell” and related one about two persons who founded a chocolate company and discovered through incubating that, for their purposes, marketing it online as a wholesale business was the way to succeed. 

Gregg Bishop said that those in business at any stage should have a sound idea of why they are in business.  Like the others he said it is folly to avoid delegating.  Of course, naïve newcomers may have trouble deciding where to turn next.  He said that SBS exists to offer guidance to the perplexed, and at no cost.  He and Bowles agreed that advisors are easy to find when entrepreneurs are starting out but when they need help expanding, not so much.  Bishop said the two-three-four-year marks in the life of a small business are critical, sometimes even a time of do-or-die.

The idea of growing businesses and helping people to grow them is exciting to him.  He touted we.nyc, the SBS-created site for women entrepreneurs.  He also said that in the great body of foreign-born entrepreneurs previously mentioned, there are many who have to adjust to this country’s commercial ways and wean themselves of the old country’s commercialism.  Bornstein added that immigrants need help in everything from learning English to developing apps.

Gloria Abreu said that when she developed a strong interest in healthcare she scouted several home healthcare businesses to see how things are done and also what to choose and what to pass by.  She said that she wants to build a “skill facility.”  By all appearances she’s an outward personality, who has made friendships and won associates.  Like others who spoke before her, she avoided being a one-woman-band and delegated responsibilities, to those she felt sure could handle them. 

Yanki Tshering, head of an entity trying to help “new Americans,” often with micro-loans, said she had to gain stability before thinking of expansion.  She found that getting familiar with city regulations was essential, particularly if she was advising business-minded immigrants, many of whom rely on family and friends.  She also discovered a lot of apps that could be useful online.  One of them that’s particularly useful, she said, is a guide to various international cuisines.  She praised 10,000 Small Businesses, the advisory group begun by Goldman Sachs, which has run its classes out of La Guardia Community College.

When the audience was invited to inquire and contribute, a woman named Alexis Smallwood advised Sean Peckett that if he seeks land for a soccer field, he should get in touch with 596 Acres (“Find the lot in your life”), the Brooklyn group that might have the vacant lot he needs.  A later speaker was Chris Landano, from Glendale, CEO of Trakbelt 360 (“Take your tools for a spin”), who said he is looking for a way to market his made-in-America invention.  Trakbelt 360 is a toolbelt that Landano says is ideal for workmen and photographers.  It has a belt-within-the-belt which holds tools that can be brought forward for ready access or moved back when the user is done or needs another tool.  The inventor is a determined man (who has already been through an ownership dispute), and whether or not he got advice at the meeting to guarantee his success, he left a strong impression, which can’t be bad.

A later speaker, Rodney Watson, said he obtained a license through QEDC and loves them for that.  He asked about selling to government.  Bishop said he should acquire a lot of business experience before trying to sell to the government, which is dotted I’s and crossed T’s to the max.

Several of those speaking from the audience told the panel and moderator that they found the meeting important to them, so obviously it was an important meeting.

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