Wednesday, March 13, 2019

small business

small business

How this nonprofit consulting firm helps small businesses, female entrepreneurs - USA TODAY

Posted: 13 Mar 2019 03:00 AM PDT


The Acceleration Project's mission is to help local economies thrive and to support the success of small businesses. Seth Harrison/Lohud, The Journal News/Lohud

When Jane Veron moved from Manhattan to Scarsdale, New York, in 1997 with her investment banker husband and two children, then 1 and 3 years old, she was on a leave of absence from her job as a senior director at American Express.

Throughout her early days of motherhood, the company offered the Yale graduate and Harvard MBA a myriad of options, including working part time and consulting.

"But in the end, juggling family and professional responsibilities and the long commute became untenable," said Veron, of what eventually led to her decision to quit her job.

Her life as a suburban mom in one of the most expensive ZIP codes in the country landed her in familiar company: stay-at-home moms who held degrees from prestigious universities and had experience in the corporate world including at white-shoe law firms, exclusive management consultancies and Fortune 500 companies.

"I felt like there was this latent talent that I wanted to harness," said Veron, of the "opt-out" moms.

There was also a need. Veron noticed businesses in her neighborhood were closing, many feeling the after affect of the economic recession and increased threats from the internet and a shift in buyer behavior.

"Those who had been in business for long didn't know how to pivot, and I knew that there were people who we could have helped," said Veron, referring to the extensive functional and industry expertise her fellow opt-out moms possessed. 

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That led Veron and a fellow Scarsdale mom, Lisa Tretler, a Wharton MBA, in 2012 to establish The Acceleration Project, or TAP, a nonprofit consulting firm with a twofold mission: to support small businesses and to channel talent into the economy.

"I didn't leave (my job) because I wanted to stop working but because the logistics of life became overly complex," Veron said. "I knew there were many others like me. Once you take time off, it's so hard to find your way back in, to find the flexibility, the control that you need."

About 10 percent of highly educated mothers (with a master's degree or more) are staying home to care for the family, according to a 2014 Pew Research Center analysis.

Laurie Medvinsky of Scarsdale, has an MBA in Finance from Columbia Business School and worked for Lehman Brothers, Bank of America and Merrill Lynch in fixed income research and sales. Before she joined TAP, Medvinsky said she had been out of the full-time work force for more than a decade.

"Now that my kids are in high school, I am figuring out if I want to go back to work or maybe start a business; I feel like I can use my experience at TAP as a resume builder," said Medvinsky. "In addition to helping the small businesses grow and improve and giving back to the community, the caliber of women I have met at TAP is outstanding."

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In 2012, Veron and Tretler started by recruiting three consultants, growing to 23 by 2015.

Some of their earliest clients came through the Women's Economic Development Center, a regional nonprofit that helps female entrepreneurs. That included working with a client to develop, manufacture and refine a product she had in a prototype for undergarments for people who are disabled or have limited mobility; another was looking to scale her sweet potato pie business.

Both are thriving businesses today.

"What is great about the consultants is that they know how to translate their Wall Street expertise into understandable concepts for small businesses," Veron said.

Today, TAP has helped more than 100 clients and expanded to six states, including Texas and Pennsylvania, and 32 cities and towns, with a roster of 72 volunteer consultants.

How does it work?

To work with TAP, a business must demonstrate a financial need and be at a critical juncture of development.

"It is so accessible in pricing because we get underwritten by grants and donations and we charge on a sliding scale," said Veron.

When Leticia Villagran, an immigrant from Guatemala, was offered a chance to take over a hair salon business in Chappaqua, New York, after working there for a few years, it was a dream come true.

The owner, Robin Michelle, had decided to retire and wanted to sell the business to Villagran, a hair stylist who had worked with Michelle for four years.

It was an intimidating process. Villagran, said her first instinct was to say no but with the encouragement and financial support of her husband, she decided to take the plunge.

She renamed the salon to Aura, the name by which she was known in Guatemala. Not only did most of the older clients stay with the new business, it more than doubled in a few years.

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In 2016, Villagran learned about TAP after attending a seminar for small businesses.

"I was good at hair styling, but running a business was hard. Even though the business was growing, I was struggling with bookkeeping and managing my staff. They helped me with both," said Villagran of her TAP advisers.  "They looked at my system and taught me how to be more efficient. They gave me ideas on growing my business by doing promotions." 

TAP also helped Tamara Francois and Adolfo Vasquez to launch their business, XP Agency, an experiential marketing agency, in New City in 2016.

With 30 years of combined marketing experience between them, the duo went to Community Capital, a not-for-profit alternative lender, which specializes in loans to women and minorities. The bank connected the pair to TAP to ensure support for the new start-up business.

"We wanted coaches who had worked in brand marketing with Fortune 500 companies, and we wanted coaches who understood agency operations. Their (the consultants') education and background and experience was top notch," said Francois, whose clients now include Coca Cola, P&G and Netflix. "We worked together for six months."

One insight from the TAP coaches that helped the business was the advice to attend specialty food shows and conferences.

"We have many clients in the Fortune 500 beverage industry, but we wouldn't have thought of checking out the up-and-comers," Francois said. "The beverage industry is exploding with all kinds of specialty drinks and going to those shows was valuable in understanding the market and securing new clients."

A growing business

In early 2016, Tretler left to pursue other interests and Veron took over as CEO and decided to launch an aggressive growth strategy, developing partnerships with economic development organizations and local chambers of commerce to bolster their client pipeline. She also put together a pro bono management team and initiated a big recruiting effort. 

By 2017, TAP was experiencing "explosive growth" and COO Tracy Jaffe, who was on the early pro bono management team, became the first paid employee. Currently, three members of the leadership team are paid; consultants are volunteers. 

That same year, Community Capital invited TAP to partner with them to develop a metrics tool for small business assessment. The goal was to assess business readiness in functional areas such as finance, marketing and operations. Community Capital received a grant from JP Morgan to underwrite the cost. 

In June, The Acceleration Project was awarded $100,000 to help with its capacity building efforts from JPMorgan Chase as part of its $150 million Small Business Forward program to help women, minority and veteran entrepreneurs. 

The nonprofit has also partnered with 10,000 Small Businesses, a philanthropic initiative launched by Goldman Sachs, to support the alumni of their program and to provide teaser classes to prospective businesses.

Chris Berlow, the owner of the United Martial Arts Center, a Tae Kwon Do school in Briarcliff Manor, New York, said the TAP team helped him better utilize the studio's excess capacity in terms of space and hours. They also suggested a new pricing structure and improvements to the website.

"We get so bogged down with the day to day working of the business, that an outside perspective on the business as a whole really helps," said Berlow. "The suggestions they have because of their experience have a lot of merit."

What's in it for the opt-out moms?

For consultants, who receive professional development and training at TAP, it's a bridge to future work.

Vanessa Siderow, a former director of marketing at TAP,  used the experience to bridge back to paid work after almost a decade out of the workforce.

"When I went for the interview, they were just so impressed by all the work I had done," said Siderow. "The idea that it was for a nonprofit and was unpaid never even came up. It was still substantial, it was still experience, and it was still meaningful. And I hadn't felt this way in quite some time."

Being out of the workforce for a long time can be a confidence-killer. It's easy to feel dated.

The experience at TAP helped her fill a void, said Siderow, who is now working with a former colleague on a paid project and in the process of incorporating a business.

"I do feel like my skills are fresh, that I do have something to offer."

It's a winning formula.

"I love seeing the businesses transformed, and the women transformed," said Veron, now a mother of three, a Scarsdale village trustee and a former president of the League of Women Voters.

"The women come in not knowing how their skills can be utilized and then we show them by engaging them with a client and they soar. The businesses will thank us because we helped them cut their cost, expand their location.

"It's so tangible, you can see your impact."

Swapna Venugopal Ramaswamy is the new audience strategist and a member of the editorial board for The Journal News/lohud, part of the USA TODAY Network.

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ONWARD Challenge recognizes small businesses - Boulder Daily Camera

Posted: 12 Mar 2019 10:29 PM PDT

Boulder and Broomfield county businesses can participate in the OnDeck ONWARD Denver Challenge to win cash prizes.

The challenge recognizes the small business owners' commitment to the metro-Denver area. The challenge, sponsored by OnDeck, an online lender to small businesses, will select three winners for prizes ranging from $3,000 to $10,000.

Those interested in participating need to answer a few questions, including why they chose the Denver metro area to start their small business, according to a news release. Participant responses will be evaluated by a panel of judges. To qualify, small businesses must have been in operation for at least a year, headquartered in the metro-Denver area, and have generated at least $100,000 in revenue in the last year.

The deadline to enter is April 3. To enter and see the complete list of rules, visit

Pratik Joshi: 303-684-5310,


Small business health care bill heads to Senate floor - Winston-Salem Journal

Posted: 12 Mar 2019 09:10 AM PDT

A state Senate bill is heading to the Senate floor for debate on whether to allow small-business employers to offer an association health-insurance plan, or AHP, that could provide lower premium costs.

Senate Bill 86 would loosen the requirements for AHPs in North Carolina in response to federal Labor Department changes made in June by the Trump administration.

The bill cleared the Senate Rules and Operations committee Tuesday after gaining recommendations earlier from the Health, and Commerce and Insurance committees.

Co-sponsor Sen. Joyce Krawiec, R-Forsyth, has said up to 110,000 North Carolina small-business employees could benefit from the legislative change. Krawiec said the bill could be heard as early as today.

The legislation piggybacks on previous bills, such as permitting a grouping of employers in the same trade, industry or line of business in an AHP. Employers with up to 50 workers could qualify.

What's new in SB86 is that an AHP could be accessed by non-affiliated employers within the same region or metropolitan area, allowing for the crossing of state lines in some instances.

The AHP has to be offered by a nonprofit with at least 500 members. The nonprofit has to have been in business for at least two years for reasons beyond providing insurance, such as a chamber of commerce or a trade group.

As an example, Krawiec cited the possibility of the Winston-Salem, Greensboro and High Point chambers of commerce joining forces to form an AHP.

Krawiec used the example to explain an amendment to the bill approved Thursday. The amendment would allows for the formation of an AHP by one or more nonprofits, but counts their overall years in business to meet the qualifying criteria.

Mark Owens, president and chief executive of Winston-Salem Chamber of Commerce, said Thursday the chamber "will closely monitor the progress of this legislation and work with our elected officials to help our business community succeed."

The bill would allow sole proprietors and the self-employed to enroll, which has attracted the support of groups such as the NC Realtors trade group and NC Chamber.

NC Chamber lists AHPs as a top legislative priority in 2019, saying "it is committed to bringing value-driven health care to North Carolina in order to improve health outcomes and make costs more predictable and affordable."

Co-sponsors stressed that the legislation would allow qualified employers to offer health insurance plans "that would include many state and federal consumer protections, including the requirement to cover those with pre-existing conditions."

Critics say the bill may allow small employers to cherry-pick industry sectors and regions to attract primarily young healthy individuals, which could leave older and less healthy individuals with more expensive premium options in the federal health-insurance marketplace.

"Our concern is that these AHPs would not provide adequate coverage for employees for the care they are expecting or that they need," said Brendan Riley, policy analyst with the left-leaning N.C. Justice Center. "There are more effective ways of closing the uninsured gap than these plans, particularly having North Carolina expand its Medicaid program" to between 450,000 and 600,000 North Carolinians.

Critics of AHPs say giving small employers access to the flexibility of larger employers could lead to those plans opting out of providing 10 essential health benefits required in the federal marketplace under the Affordable Care Act.

Those benefits are: ambulatory or outpatient services; emergency services; hospitalization; maternity and newborn care; behavioral health services; prescription drugs; rehabilitative and habilitative services and devices; laboratory services; preventive and wellness services, and chronic disease management; and pediatric services, including oral and vision care.

Krawiec said SB86 is different in that AHPs are heavily regulated by the state Insurance Department.

Small business owners are more optimistic, but signal profit pain - Axios

Posted: 12 Mar 2019 03:00 AM PDT

Data: National Federation of Independent Business; Chart: Harry Stevens/Axios

Optimism on Main Street rose in February for the first time in nearly half a year, according to new survey data by the right-leaning National Federation of Independent Business, but the rebound is slight — higher than January's reading by just a half point.

The details: The most small business owners since 2017 reported weak profits, with 41% citing fewer sales, thanks to a more cautious consumer.

  • The NFIB blamed lingering effects of the government shutdown for tepid small business sales. "Earnings trends weakened as a million laid off workers and others affected by the shutdown cut back on spending. The reductions in sales fell immediately to the bottom line," the organization said in a press release.
  • The economy added only 20,000 new jobs last month, while outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas reported that businesses cut the most jobs in over 3 years in February.

One bright spot: Overall expectations that the economy and business conditions would improve were higher as compared to last month.

North End Redevelopment Pushes Out Small Businesses - WFAE

Posted: 12 Mar 2019 03:18 PM PDT

Redevelopment isn't just pushing up housing prices in Charlotte's North End, it's also affecting small businesses that rent space in the corridor.

City North Business Center on North Tryon Street is less than a mile from uptown, in an area of old warehouses and factory buildings. Last fall, it sold for $8.8 million to a Texas developer, who plans to bring new services to the neighborhood, including a brewery, shops and offices for creative businesses.

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But that means dozens of current tenants, many of them black-owned businesses, have to go. That's frustrating to tattoo artist Jerrell Banks of the House of Pain Tattoo shop.

"To be honest, I think it's messed up because people had established businesses here that was cut short, [on] short notice," Banks said.

The tenants at City North are a mix of businesses — tax preparation, medical supplies, real estate, temporary staffing, personal care, even old car restoration. The building also houses arts and community nonprofits.

Low-Cost Offices

Rents here are cheap, by Charlotte standards. A small office goes for as low as $400 or $500 a month — one-half or one-third the cost of pricier parts of town. The low rents make many of these businesses financially viable, said Christopher Dennis, who runs a real estate company and a community nonprofit from the building.

"For what we are paying and what we receive as our rent, it was totally affordable," he said. "I couldn't have found this anywhere across town. And then on top of that, to be right in the community where we're working has been a gift."

Dennis has two offices side by side — one for the for-profit affordable housing company E-Fix Housing Solutions and the other for Community Dream Builders Inc., a neighborhood improvement nonprofit. For just $750 a month, he gets about 450 square feet — including two small offices, a reception area, and access to a conference room.

Dennis said gentrification's effects on housing are well known. But he thinks the city needs to start talking about commercial gentrification, too. He said some businesses may not survive losing their affordable space at City North Business Center.

"Commercial gentrification does happen," Dennis said. "There may be a lot of small business that just won't be able to overcome the challenge of having to relocate to a new area and find new clients."

For now, Dennis said he plans to move temporarily into a smaller space nearby while he reconsiders how his business and nonprofit operate. "Streamlining," he called it.

Lockwood Changing

City North Business Center is in the Lockwood neighborhood, where investors have been buying both residential and commercial properties. The City North building and 7.5-acre site were sold in November to Artesia Real Estate of Austin, Texas. The company plans to rename it General Assembly, and renovate the building with a mix of office and retail space.

In the letter to tenants Feb. 21, real estate managers Cushman & Wakefield said tenants had 60 days to vacate — double what's required in leases. It recommended a broker to help finding new locations before the April 30 deadline.

Zandra Smith has run her medical supply company out of the building for five years. She said she read about the sale in The Charlotte Business Journal.

"It seems like they would've given us more notice," Smithc said. "We've never had a meeting, we've never had any kind of real communication from the new owners."

Smith said she has found another space, but her move is complicated. She still needs approvals for her new site and she'll have to move a warehouse full of supplies.

Where Will They Go?

Some tenants had only just moved in, like the hemp and CBD supply company Hemp Hop. Manager Justin Henson said they pay about $475 for a few hundred square feet.

"So it's, uh, pretty reasonable," he said. But where else might they move?

"Nowhere, to be honest," Henson said.

Henson said the company makes deliveries around Charlotte, and needs the location near Interstates 77 and 277.

The location is exactly why investors like Artesia are targeting the North End. Nobody from Artesia was available for a recorded interview. But in a statement, the company noted that the building is in one of "Charlotte's hottest and most attractive growth zones," and said it wants to "create a project consistent with driving economic opportunity and investment in the vibrant North Tryon corridor."

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