Two Latino Small Business Owners Find Answers
at Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses Program
Program Taught at LaGuardia Community College
Long Island City, NY—November 30, 2012—Ramon Veras and Jessenia Velazquez have a lot in common. They are both Latino small business owners. Each founded full-service janitorial companies some 12 years ago—his, Facility Value, Inc., located in Upper Manhattan; hers, Jessie’s CleanSweep, Inc., located in Baldwin, Long Island. And each was at a crossroads.
Ms. Velazquez, despite a steady increase in revenue, felt that the company was at a standstill and she was determined to take it to the next level, but was not sure how. Mr. Veras, who had no formal
business education, had been running the operation on pure instinct, and now felt it was time to lead the company like a CEO.
To confront their personal issues, they both arrived at a common solution: to participate in Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses at LaGuardia Community College, a free 100-hour business that provides entrepreneurs with all the tools they need to grow their businesses and, in turn, hire employees and help strengthen the local economy. Since the program was launched in 2010, hundreds of local small businesses, of which an estimated 30 were Latino entrepreneurs, have graduated from the program.
And so, every Saturday for 10-weeks, Mr. Veras and Ms. Velazquez joined other small business owners to garner invaluable information and advice from Goldman Sachs professionals and LaGuardia faculty on accounting, human resources, negotiations and marketing.
Sitting in her new office space in Baldwin, Ms. Velazquez, who graduated from the program this past June, said, “I am ecstatic that I did it. I came away with a wealth of knowledge, and even before graduating I used the skills I acquired to land a $2.2 million contract from the U.S. Department of Defense.”
Mr. Veras, who graduated from the program in November 2011, was no less effusive. “It was one of the best things I have ever done,” he said. ”I came to the program without any tools and I was not thinking with the mentality of a CEO mentality. Now I have the tools and the mindset of a CEO.”
Both agreed that 10,000 Small Businesses transformed their way of doing business, from negotiating contracts, to hiring and firing employees, to keeping track of their finances. And they concurred that the heart of the business education experience was the creation of a comprehensive business plan, which every student is required to develop.
“A problem with a lot of entrepreneurs is that they know how to do business, but they don’t know how to get their thoughts on paper,” said Ms. Velazquez. “They say, ‘I got it in my head,’ but until you have a written plan, that big picture, you are not going to do anything.”
“Like my colleagues,” she added, “I had all the things I wanted to do in my head, but I did not have a plan, and that is what I needed. I needed a road to go down, and the business plan put me on that road.”
Mr. Veras said that whether he has a meeting with his comptroller or reviewing his operation, he will check back to his growth plan. “It is not a document that sits in your drawer, but an evolving tool that allows you to carefully examine your business.”
Equally valuable to Mr. Veras was the “brotherhood” he established with the 28 colleagues in his cohort and the “therapy sessions” they conducted. “Just being in the room with other small business owners, with the same DNA, was like going to a place where you belong,” he said. “They understand your problems and concerns because they are going through the same issues. It makes you realize that your journey is similar to other small business owners.”
Along with the camaraderie he developed with the group, which he still meets on a regular basis, he negotiated cleaning contracts with two of his classmates. “It is like helping very close friends,” he said.
Learning how to hire employees who fit into your business culture, and fire those who are not contributing to the company, was also a valuable lesson learned by the two entrepreneurs.
Ms. Velazquez noted that before the program she was hiring inexperienced cleaners who had to be trained, which cost her time and money; now she hires seasoned workers. She also decided to participate in “Hire our Heroes” initiative, and has hired four U.S. veterans. “I am not going to hire anyone but veterans,” she added.
Mr. Veras said he was given the advice and courage he needed to face the difficult task of firing a relative. “With every employee I want to instill my culture and the culture of the company, but that is not always possible,” he said. “I learned at the program that if you can’t change the people, change the people. It is not easy firing a relative, or any employee for that matter, but those actions have helped create a healthier business environment.”
He added that another invaluable component of the program is the one-on-one mentoring, which matches every student with either a LaGuardia or a Goldman Sachs professional. Throughout the program, he met with his mentor on a regular basis, and even after completing the program, his advisor calls to see how he and his business are doing.
Ms. Velazquez and Mr. Veras applied all those lessons to their businesses and immediately saw results. Ms. Velazquez secured a three-year, $2.2 million contract from the U.S. Department of Defense to provide cleaning services at Ft. Hamilton Army Base in Brooklyn, an award that doubled her revenue to $1.2 million. She is now waiting word on four federal proposals for contracts in Washington, D.C., Pennsylvania and Texas. To meet her clients’ demands, she now has 11 employees compared to the two full-time and six part-time employees in 2011.
Mr. Veras has seen similar returns. Since graduating, his company has added 12 new accounts, including the Bedford-Stuyvesant Medical Center, and he hired 70 new workers increasing his operation to 170 employees. And his $1.9 million in revenue in 2010 has climbed 100% to $3.8 million.
Now, Mr. Veras and Ms. Velazquez are 10,000 Small Businesses ambassadors eagerly spreading the word about the program.
“I tell people, ‘it will change your life, change your business and change your whole view of things,’” said Ms. Velazquez, who added that her first recruit, Linda Guzman, recently graduated from the program.
To learn more about the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses initiative at LaGuardia Community College, please:
• Visit www.laguardia.edu/10ksb
• Call our team at (718) 730-7400 or
• Email 10KSB@lagcc.cuny.edu
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Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses is an initiative to unlock the growth and job creation potential of 10,000 small businesses across the United States through greater access to business education, financial capital, and business support services. The program operates through a national network of public and private partner organizations including community colleges, business schools and Community Development Financial Institutions. The initiative is currently active in New York, Chicago, Cleveland, Houston, Long Beach, Los Angeles, New Orleans, and Salt Lake Cityand will continue to expand to communities across the country. Community partners in New York City include The City of New York, LaGuardia Community College and Seedco Financial Services.
LaGuardia Community College located in Long Island City, Queens, was founded in 1971 as a bold experiment in opening the doors of higher education to all, and we proudly carry forward that legacy today. LaGuardia educates students through over 50 degree, certificate and continuing education programs, providing an inspiring place for students to achieve their dreams. Upon graduation, LaGuardia students’ lives are transformed as family income increases 17%, and students transfer to four-year colleges at three times the national average. Part of the City University of New York (CUNY), LaGuardia is a nationally recognized leader among community colleges for boundary-breaking success educating underserved students. At LaGuardia we imagine new ideas, create new curriculum and pioneer programs to make our community and our country stronger. Visit www.laguardia.edu to learn more.