Making the Most of Life’s Opportunities

Ivonne, owner of Kokoroko Restaurant in Queens, NY

Ivonne, owner of Kokoroko Restaurant in Queens, NY

Opportunities happen every day, but it takes a special person to make something of them. When Ivonne entered a sweepstakes contest, her life was changed forever. She won a vacation to New York City and fell in love with it. “The people, the energy, the intensity – it made me feel alive, “she said with a grin.

A year later, Ivonne made the decision to move to Queens from her native Peru. She found herself job at a Mexican deli. It was a far cry from the teaching jobs she held back  home, but Ivonne reveled in her new responsibilities. She learned accounting, inventory control, marketing, and developed a sense of responsibility for the business.

“I really cared about the deli, but the owners were an older couple and they were exhausted,” she says. Things went downhill when they brought an inexperienced relative to manage the store. The deli fell victim to poor management and it closed soon after. Ivonne found herself at crossroads once more.

“Owning a business is a headache and I spent years caring for other people’s headaches. I wanted my own!” she laughed.

Suddenly, another opportunity presented itself for Ivonne. She noticed a vacancy sign on an old restaurant building. Again Ivonne seized upon an opportunity, signed a lease and registered her new business, Kokoroko. She opened just in time to celebrate Peru’s Independence Day.

Kokoroko quickly became a staple in the community, hosting concerts, birthday parties and karaoke. The restaurant serves hearty Peruvian dishes like Lomo Saltado and Aji de Gallina. However, winter arrived and Kokoroko did not have central heating. As the temperature dropped, so did Kokoroko’s sales.

Ivonne came to Accion 3 months ago. With a $5,000 loan, Ivonne was able to install the heating system Kokoroko needed to survive the winter.

Though she admits that her journey has been unusual, Ivonne is certain that the risks have been worthwhile. “With Kokoroko, I feel finally confident about the future, and the headaches no longer feel like headaches; they’re simply lessons worth learning.”

Story written by Julian De Mayo.

From the Banana Capital to the Capital of the Americas

Santiago started Maintenance Solutions which provides maintenance, janitorial and renovation services.

Santiago started Maintenance Solutions which provides maintenance, janitorial and renovation services.

Santiago is always moving forward. He grew up between the ocean and the Ecuadorean Andes in the city of Machala—a place affectionately referred to as The Banana Capital of the World.  Santiago spent his youth changing jobs, always looking to better himself. This adventurous spirit led him to New York City 25 years ago.

Life in the Big Apple wasn’t everything he had anticipated. Santiago lived with his sister as he struggled to find work. His rudimentary English restricted his options. He felt stuck, but never lost his forward trajectory.

“I made friends with an electrician who taught me the trade,” reminisced Santiago. “I also taught myself plumbing, landscaping and sanitation.”

Santiago joined his friend in providing handyman services for residential buildings. Around this time, he also met Bethsy. They fell in love and got married. It seemed like Santiago was finally ready to lay down roots. But nostalgia tugged at Santiago in the midst of cold and busy New York City. He longed for the familiarity of Ecuador, but knew he wasn’t ready to move back.   Santiago decided to make yet another move.

“I visited my sister who was studying in Miami. The weather and the culture reminded me of home. I really saw myself living there,” Santiago said.

Santiago, Maintenance Solutions

Santiago, Maintenance Solutions

This time, Santiago was more prepared. He used his wealth of skills to launch his own business—Maintenance Solutions. His business provides maintenance, janitorial, and renovation services to apartment complexes. People noticed his skills. His business grew through word of mouth to service more and more complexes. With the increased demand, Santiago needed to invest in hiring employees and equipment to serve more complexes. The catch? He needed money to do so. Though Santiago’s business was strong, he had a limited credit history.

“No one wanted to invest in this type of business,” he observed.

Santiago’s friend told him about Accion, where he worked with a loan officer to paint a full picture of his finances. Accion provided Santiago with the financing he needed to build his credit and invest in his business so he could meet the growing demand for his services.

Santiago has learned a lot of lessons over the years, and faces challenges with the same sense of adventure he displayed in his youth. And while he has settled his roots for the time being, he dreams of one day returning to Ecuador.

“I’ve learned so many skills in this country that I hope to one day share with people back home.”

Ordem e Progresso: Building Brazilian Community in Boston

Basil by Augusto Janiscki Junior (Source: Flickr)

Basil by Augusto Janiscki Junior (Source: Flickr)

The green, yellow and blue Brazilian flag is hard to miss when walking through the neighborhood of Framingham, MA. It hangs on store awnings, front porches and above churches. The flag’s motto reads Ordem e Progresso. Order and progress. It’s fitting for the town’s dominant immigrant group. They come from across Brazil—Minas Gerais, São Paulo, and Espírito Santo—to build better lives and find better jobs. For progress.

Massachusetts might not seem like a natural fit for Brazilian immigrants, especially with the frigid temperatures that New England is currently facing, but Boston’s Brazilian community has been growing strong over the last 30 years. In fact, it’s the primary destination in the United States for Brazilian immigrants. The rich community life in neighborhoods like Framingham is a big part of the reason why.

According to the US Census Bureau’s 2008 Community Survey, immigrants made up about a quarter of Framingham’s population, with the largest group being from Brazil. At Accion, 40% of our small business clients in the Boston area are Brazilian, a fact that’s not surprising to our staff. “These individuals see entrepreneurship as a way of improving their lives and their family’s lives,” notes Rodrigo Cerveira, Manager of Lending at Accion East.

This trend is not unique to Accion. Brazilian small business owners in Boston are four times as likely to start a business than their native-born counterparts. Why? At least in part, it’s the perfect confluence of external factors and personality types that might be pre-disposed to taking risks.

“In order to start your own business, you have to be comfortable with a certain level of risk. It’s not for everyone. Someone that comes to a new country, someone who is willing to pack up their life and re-settle somewhere foreign is more likely to be comfortable with risk,” says Victoria Richardson, Senior Development Officer at Accion.

Additionally, jobs can be hard to come by. “Brazilian clients look for alternatives to limited job prospects once moving to the U.S. because their Bachelor degrees do not translate,” says Rodrigo. However even though they may not be able to work in their field “they use the knowledge and tools from their education to become successful business owners.”

The existing Brazilian small business community provides a plethora of support networks, making entrepreneurship an appealing and accessible option. Brazilians are often able to recognize localized needs in their communities, along with the opportunity to fill that need. Accion clients and brothers Esteban and Sebastián Perez offer the Latino community a taste of home with the products that they grew up with through their grocery supply business, Posible Import & Distribution. After procuring an exclusive order to supply Latino products to over 150 stores in a well-known grocery chain, and with the help of an Accion loan to purchase inventory and hire a driver, the Boston market is providing a promising future for the brothers.

“Accion East has a really important role to play in this,” explains Rodrigo. “As one of the only organizations in Boston serving the Brazilian small business community, we’re a critical source of capital and educational resources. There is a lot of wrong information spread across the community. We help individuals better understand their financial options in order to avoid falling into the trap of predatory lending. We also help with the building blocks of business finance, from opening a bank account, to more complex support like helping businesses receive certification. These financial counseling services are as important as capital itself. They enable our clients to make informed financial decisions that lead to reduced debt, improved personal credit and the creation of assets.”

Lana Garcia, owner, Gula Cake Shop at work  in Everett, MA

Lana Garcia, owner, Gula Cake Shop at work in Everett, MA

Because of these services, Accion has been able to help Brazilians like Lana Garcia open their businesses. Lana was born in Brazil to a family of artisan bakers. When Lana immigrated to Boston she continued the family tradition of baking and took culinary courses to expand her skills; eventually opening Gula Cake Shop. A loan from Accion helped Lana renovate her storefront to appeal to the new clientele she was attracting through the marketing efforts that she learned from Accion workshops.

There are dozens of stories like Lana’s, Esteban’s and Sebastián’s. The entrepreneurial spirit—the willingness to bet on oneself—shows no signs of slowing in Boston’s Brazilian communities. For these individuals, progress continues to be an appropriate motto for country and home.

Ottavio is an artist. He worked many years as a mason contractor perfecting his eye for detail. Fourteen years ago, Ottavio decided to take his passion for art and open up his own business. Ottavio started Accurate Graphics, a company specializing in corporate and custom signage.

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Ottavio employs nine people.

Year after year, Ottavio built a steady clientele with his exceptional customer service. He focused on quick turn-around and innovative designs. The contracts he received grew larger and larger. Ottavio will never forget the day he laid the finish line for the Boston Marathon.

Ottavio Bolognese_Finish Line

Ottavio’s team made  the Boston Marathon finish line.

As his business grew, Ottavio put together a skillful team of designers, technicians, retail and sales experts. Yet, keeping up with Accurate Graphic’s growth has not always been easy. During the recession, Ottavio struggled to access funds to keep the business open. He poured most of his savings into the business, which hurt him financially.

Through his perseverance, Ottavio’s business survived the recession. Always looking to the future, Ottavio approached a TD Bank representative  for advice on financing his business.

“I needed to build my credit back to where it was,” explained Ottavio.

After listening to Ottavio, the representative recognized that Accion’s loan programs would suit Ottavio’s situation. Kara referred Ottavio to Accion, where he worked with an Accion Loan Consultant. Ottavio received a small loan from Accion which will strengthen his finances to ensure that Accurate Graphics continues to grow.

Today, Accurate Graphics employs nine individuals, including one of Ottavio’s grandsons. “My vision for the future is to give my grandson a legacy and ensure that my employees continue to have jobs with the family.”

The Color of Joy

When Veronica Watts was 13, she painted her mom’s bedroom and knew that she had found her calling. She had dabbled with painting under the instruction of her grandfather for a few years, but the joy she brought to her mom with a fresh coat of paint that day was a game changer. It had seemed a simple act going into it, but seeing the impact it made on her mother made her want to do more. “I was really encouraged by my mother. She was a really big motivator in my life.”

Over the years, Veronica worked with different contractors and family members to develop her skills. Painting had become her passion. It had become her life. It was her creative outlet and a way for her to bring joy to others. Eventually, she decided to open her own business; painting would now also be how she provided for herself and her family.

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Veronica hard at work

However, it was far from easy getting to where she is now. Being a woman in a mostly male-dominated field was difficult. “At the beginning it was hard because I felt like I always had something to prove, but you keep working and eventually they can’t say anything about it.” Veronica brought her incredible work ethic to each job, and remained committed to just being herself. “You have to be serious about your brand. When you are, you’ll do well.”

Veronica sees the good and potential in everyone. In 2011, she established Operation Brush Up – a training program that sought out troubled youths and adults and taught them her craft. Through the program, she hoped to share some of what her mom gave her: good work ethics, self-confidence and positive energy. She fondly talked about this program and its impact on others, saying that “there are a lot of people with potential who just need a chance.” This wonderful optimism is reflected in their slogan: Let’s pick up a paint brush and brush up our lives!

Veronica mixes plaster before beginning to paint.

Veronica mixes plaster before beginning to paint.

Her life and career have always been about helping others. After establishing her business, she knew she wanted the best care possible for her family and employees. She wanted to provide them with access to health insurance. She needed to invest in her company in order to do that; she needed to grow. She knew she would need a loan to invest in her business, but didn’t have the credit to go to the traditional route.

Veronica reached out to an organization to help her develop her credit, who in turn directed her to Accion for a loan request. With her loan from Accion, Veronica has not only been able to grow her business, she also improved her own financial position and helped her employees get one step closer to improving theirs—by starting the process of enrolling them in a company healthcare plan.

“God gives everyone talents. We must use them until the wheels fall off or we will fall off.”

Shop Small on Small Business Saturday

Happy Small Business Saturday! Treat yourself to local goodies and find unique gifts for your loved ones on this Small Business Saturday. Now in its fourth year, Small Business Saturday was created to support  local businesses across the nation  It is a  meaningful way to connect with your community, create jobs and keep the local economy vibrant! Here are 5 Accion clients that you can shop small from:

Beehive Oven, NY

Beehive Oven: www.beehiveoven.com.

Run by Texans in NY, Beehive Oven makes biscuits the old-fashioned way, with care and quality ingredients.  They make biscuits in a variety of flavors from savory to sweet, and are always developing new creative recipes that respect the heritage of the humble biscuit. Order biscuits for your holiday dinners online now:

HERNÁN, TX

Traditional Mexican hot chocolate has an intense cocoa flavor and slightly granular texture, the result of the artisan chocolate-making process. Experience what it’s like to make “chocolate de mesa” the way it’s done “en Mexico” with an HERNÁN Mexican Hot Chocolate Gift Set! Perfect for the coming cold winter nights. Available now at Food52.

Marilyn Tov, NY

This unique line of children’s clothing captures the memories of Marilyn Tov’s magical childhood in Paris and brings them to life in a graceful, and remarkably wearable, collection. Based in New York and made in the US, Marilyn Tov now has a new line: women’s clothing! Moms always wished their children’s outfits also came in adult sizes, and Marilyn Tov has made this wish come true!..

Felicity Sweets, MA

Felicity Sweets: http://felicitysweets.com/

Felicity Sweets is a neighborhood gem featuring a little something for everyone. More than just candy, they are a complete gift boutique store providing those “hard-to-finds” for that special occasion. From Lake Champlain chocolates to beautiful jewelry, owner Sarah Horton wants to share her favorite things with Boston’s South End.

Carmen and Lola, FL

Carmen and Lola was named after two grandmothers with a passion for gourmet Spanish food.  iThis business was created not only with the goal of exporting the traditional flavors of Spain, but also to elevate Spanish cuisine to the international level of prestige it deserves. . Check out the company’s social media page,  to learn how to make the perfect paella and tempting tapas. Shop now to win a gift basket!

Looking for more businesses to shop small from? Check out our marketplace.

 

Introducing the MicroConsulting Program Participants!

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Join us at our annual Harvest Festival on November 20th to support our new MicroConsulting Program! We will feature 11 small business owners that have been consulted by highly-skilled young professional volunteers. Over the past 7 weeks, the volunteers have worked with the small businesses to accomplish projects that will lead to business growth.

Click here to get your tickets!

At the Harvest Festival, you’ll learn more about how Accion’s volunteers helped these business owners overcome their business challenges:

We’re excited to introduce this year’s participants:

Plaques by Azra – Azra Khalfan
http://azra.com/

Plaques by Azra specializes in the award and recognition industry, providing awards and services to corporate business, organizations, clubs, sport teams, leagues, religious centers and individual customers.

Challenge: Website Development and Optimization

Joa Swim LLC – Julie Joa
http://juliejoa.com/

Using only the best imported fabrics from around the world, Julie’s company features swimwear with the American woman’s body in mind. Using only the best imported fabrics from around the world, Julie proudly manufactures her swimwear domestically.

Challenge: Branding and Website Development

Marilyn Tov – Marilyn Tov
http://www.marilyntov.com/

This unique line of children’s clothing captures the memories of Marilyn Tov’s magical childhood in Paris and brings them to life in a graceful, and remarkably wearable, collection. With comfortable fabrics like double-knit cotton, touch-ably soft wool, and smooth silk lining, these clothes are made to be moved in, played in, and loved. In addition to the children’s line, Marilyn has recently added a women’s line.

Challenge: Online Sales

TM Baseball Academy – Yesenia Rodriguez
http://www.tmbaseballacademy.com/

TM Baseball Academy trains and mentors hundreds of athletes. The academy teaches players of all ages and instills in them the confidence they need to succeed both on and off the field. TM Baseball Academy has helped many young athletes achieve their dreams by assisting them from High School to College. Some of the young men who have been drafted including Johnny Monell (S.F. Giants), Melvin Garcia (Toronto Blue Jays), Alibay Barkly (Angels) just to name a few.

Challenge: Financial Management

Puzzles for Us – Kevin Dunn
http://www.puzzlesforus.com/index.htm

Puzzles for Us is an award-winning cultural education series that spotlights the rich historical legacy and ongoing contributions of people of color to the global community. The company specializes in the creation of exciting activity books, puzzle books, custom puzzles, workshops and other products that highlight these contributions in a colorful, engaging manner. Schools and organizations across the United States use Kevin’s cultural literacy resources.

Challenge: Marketing and Financial Management

Salty Road – Marisa Wu

http://shop.thesaltyroad.com/

Marisa started her salt-water taffy company, Salty Road, in the hot summer of 2011. Marisa’s taffy is unlike any other —- creamy like a milkshake with a distinct salt crystal crunch. Each batch is made by hand in Brooklyn.

Challenge: Sales strategy

Brewla Bars – Daniel and Rebecca Dengrove

http://www.brewlabars.com/

Daniel and Rebecca Dengrove are a brother and sister team with over 15 years of experience in food science and technology. They created Brewla Bars, all natural popsicles with craft-brewed ingredients to utilize their skills in product development while filling creating a completely new kind of frozen treat. Rebecca rented space in the industrial kitchen at her old graduate school, decorated a rolling freezer, and Brewla Bars began.

Challenge: Financial management

Tiny Kitchen Brands LLC – Philip David Crouse
http://drinkcnc.com/

Tiny Kitchen Brands LLC produces and sells naturally crafted beverages. The company offers a range of flavored drinks made of natural ingredients and sweetened with organic cane sugar. It serves customers through dispensers at fast casual establishments and restaurants. The company was founded in 2011 and is based in New York.

Challenge: Sales Strategy

French’Encas – Simon Herfray
http://www.frenchencas.com/

French’Encas is a French culinary company that provides professional culinary classes and also produces high quality pastries for catering and wholesale purposes. Chef Simon Herfray incorporated his business in November of 2013 after realizing there was an existing demand from shops, caterers, wedding halls, etc. who were looking for specialty desserts.

Challenge: Online Marketing and Business Plan Creation

Quasar Fashion Inc. – Maria Mejia

Quasar Fashion Inc is a company that specializes in handbag manufacturing. They make sample patterns, prototypes, small leather products and baby shoes.

Challenge: Online Sales

Giving the Gift of Gymnastics

Business, gymnastics, and psychology – these may seem an unusual combination of interests. For Lauren, they are her three passions in life. They are also the inspirations behind LEAP South Florida.

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Lauren has been a gymnast and coach for over 15 years. Her work is rigorous and unique. She works with special needs clients, providing them the opportunity to build athletic skills.
Lauren started her own business, LEAP South Florida. LEAP uses a comprehensive approach to athletics combining behavioral, cognitive, emotional, and social development. Her clients, mostly children, enjoy both one-on-one sessions as well as group training. Lauren tailors her approach to a wide spectrum of clients – including those with Attention Deficit Disorder, Autism and Down syndrome.

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Lauren has developed an athletic training program to increase her clients’ balance, flexibility, motor skills – and most importantly – their self-confidence. “They learn to focus, to improve their critical thinking, and better handle their emotions. Things that are at the core group sports,” explained Lauren.

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Lauren rents out space at a local gym for group trainings. The number of clients she services has increased, but so has her demand for space. Lauren approached a business banker at Bank of America to request a loan to buy advanced equipment. Her banker recognized her as a perfect fit for Accion and put her in touch with an Accion Loan Consultant. After working with her Loan Consultant on an application for financing, Lauren received a $9,500 loan from Accion.

Thanks to Bank of America and Accion, Lauren will be able to invest in better equipment and continue making a difference in the lives of the clients she works with.

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Orquidea’s Beauty Salon in Crown Heights Celebrates Second Year

A local entrepreneur celebrates a second year of success, and inspires new business opportunities in her neighborhood with the help of a microloan from Accion.

When Rosaura opened her salon in Crown Heights, it was the only business on the block. She took a chance, but was confident that her 20 years of experience styling hair in the Dominican Republic and Brooklyn would draw customers to her store. And with four children to support, she was determined to make her business a success. It wasn’t easy, “I knew how I wanted to treat my customers but I needed to learn how to run my business.”

It was her empathy to her customers that ultimately led to a thriving business. She created a private room in the back of her salon where she will cater to Muslim women who, for religious reasons, cannot have their hair seen in public. The word quickly through out the Muslim community and she received an influx of clients.

Rosaura’s new business was growing quickly and she needed financing to purchase more products. Given her limited credit experience and small loan request, Rosaura could not qualify for financing from her local bank. She was referred to Accion, and following a careful assessment with a loan consultant was provided with options that suited her.   Ultimately, Rosaura received a $1,600 microloan to purchase more product inventory and establish credit. Rosaura also received critical counseling from her loan consultant to put her on the path to developing her credit, documenting her financials, and managing her cash flow.

Her business success has fostered economic growth in her neighborhood. She provides good-paying jobs to four women. And it doesn’t stop there. Seeing the success of Rosaura’s salon, several other businesses have opened on her block. Rosaura has played a key role in the revitalization of her neighborhood and it’s been recognized by the City.  Last year, on her salon’s first year anniversary, the City presented Rosaura an award thanking her for creating employment opportunities for women. “I love serving my community. I wish I could do more.”

For this year’s upcoming second-year anniversary, Rosaura will be celebrating in style. On Saturday October 4th, Orquidea’s Beauty Salon will welcome customers with a Dominican buffet, hair product sample giveaways, and 20 percent off all services throughout the day.

 

Help Build Brewla Into a National Brand with the Martha Stewart American Made Awards

Guest blog by Daniel Dengrove, co-owner of Brewla Bars. As seen on AccionUSNetwork

Daniel and Rebecca were the Grand prize winners of the 2013 Samuel Adams Brewing the American Dream Pitch Room Competition.

Daniel and Rebecca were the Grand prize winners of the 2013 Samuel Adams Brewing the American Dream Pitch Room Competition.

My sister Rebecca knows everything there is about winning and losing.

Since the age of three, and all the way through college, she was a competitive gymnast. She learned firsthand how to bounce back from losses and injury. She taught me how to be resilient in the face of challenge and use triumph and failure as learning opportunities.

Now, years later, our small business is a finalist for the 2014 Martha Stewart American Made AwardsPublic online voting starts today, and we need your help to win!

In 2010, we started Brewla to prove that great tasting desserts can also be healthy. Brewla Bars are all-natural ice pops based on brewed ingredients. Each flavor is bold and sophisticated, with a smooth, indulgent texture – and only 50 calories or less per bar.

We spent two years collecting feedback at farmers markets and events in New York City to perfect our flavors. With the help of Accion and the Samuel Adams’ Brewing the American Dream program, we strengthened our business pitch. All that hard work paid off when we heard the news about being named an American Made finalist.

We’ve always dreamed that Brewla would be a national brand. Ultimately, people have to know and love the brand, and every small business owner knows the considerable time and energy it takes to get there. Winning American Made would make it that much easier to reach people and introduce them to our delicious and healthy desserts.

If we don’t win, we’ll chalk it up as another learning opportunity. Being a finalist is tremendous validation that we have a great, high quality product. We’ll continue doing the hard work necessary to build Brewla and learn from this experience to get there faster.

So between today and October 13th, help us secure as many votes online as possible so we can bring Brewla Bars to you and your friends. You don’t have to ask your grocer, you just have to click the link here and vote!