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Know Your Rights
Source: Queens Ledger
Subject: Workplace Justice
Type: Media Coverage

Helping immigrant businesses not just survive, but thrive

The finalists in Competition THRIVE – a public/private initiative to help immigrant entrepreneurs – are now offering opportunities for start-ups and expanding immigrant businesses.

Each finalist received seed funding of $25,000 each to address challenges that face the immigrant business community, including credit access, financial management, language barriers, and connections to business networks.

After a six-month period, a winner will be chosen, based on sustainability and growth potential, and given an additional $100,000 to continue its programs.

The Queens Economic Development Corporation (QEDC) program is helping members of the Chinese community, mainly in Flushing, become licensed home improvement contractors.

Their pilot language program, conducted in Mandarin, will enable immigrant entrepreneurs currently working in an unlicensed, underpaid, and uninsured environment to legitimize their business for growth.

“Currently, many immigrant construction workers are operating on the fringes of legality, in which either they or the customers may be ripped off,” said Rob Mackay, QEDC’s director of Public Relations and Marketing.

QEDC instructors prepare workers in the construction field for the 30-question licensing exam.

As part of the program, there’s a one-to-one business advisory service, including consultation with marketing and business development experts. So far, 32 people have registered for the $100 course beginning on January 14.

“Because response has been so great, we might offer two classes” said Mackay.

With offices in Jackson Heights and Bushwick, the non-profit, multi-service Make the Road NY (MRNY) offers small business planning and financing workshops targeted toward Hispanic entrepreneurs with limited business training. The free six-workshop program starts in January.

MRNY is also forming a group of “roving educators” to reach owners that fall out of traditional business support services due to the constraints of day-to-day operations.

“Often small merchants work ten to twelve hours a day and can’t always leave their shops for training, so we come to them,” said Theo Oshiro, director of Community Workforce Development at MRNY.

Supplemental to the workshops, the educators will visit businesses periodically to provide up-to-date information and gather feedback on emerging training and needs.

MRNY also helps businesses become socially responsible. This includes technical assistance in areas such as running a safe work environment, responsible implementation of wage and hour laws, and engaging in neighborhood revitalization efforts.

Finally, MRNY will convene groups of area businesses to implement ways of collaboration. This coalition will develop collective purchasing, ad campaigns, and other community engagement initiatives.

The Business Outreach Center Network, Inc. (BOC Network) is introducing a pilot online business resource and lending platform for their existing network of business counselors, lending service representatives, and other service providers.

This will make the network’s resources and expertise instantly available to BOC Network’s direct service staff, currently being expanded to interact with Hispanic communities in Corona and African communities in Coney Island and Brighton Beach.

“We are successfully implementing web site and data base technology to bring business services, resources and capital access to the community in their own languages,” said Stephen Gomez, BOC Network’s director of Special Projects.

In the last five years, BOC Network’s alternative financing service has provided over $2 million in micro-loans to start-ups and small businesses.

“Typically, banks are hesitant to loan to start-ups, but we provide $500 to $50,000 vitally needed seed money for new or fledging enterprises to grow and build their credit,” said Gomez.

The other finalists include Accion USA, which will develop a program to address immigrant entrepreneurs and their access to credit to grow their businesses, and the Washington Heights Inwood Development Corporation, which will use the seed money to expand their childcare business development program.

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