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LaGuardia CC panel looks at immigrant entrepreneurs

John Bowles (third from r.), from the Center for an Urban Future, moderates a panel at LaGuardia Community College of Queens entrepreneurs, who talked about the challenges immigrant business owners face. Photo by Rebecca Henely
TimesLedger Newspapers

While running a business can be challenging for immigrants, Reshma Saujani of the city public advocate’s office said last Thursday they are often not aware of the many resources available to them.

“People aren’t necessarily looking for capital,” Saujani said. “They’re looking for things to help them sustain their business.”

Saujani’s talk was part of the Center for an Urban Future and the Fund for Public Advocacy’s forum on the unique challenges facing immigrant business owners at LaGuardia Community College, at 31-10 Thomson Ave., last Thursday.

Saujani shared the results of a survey of immigrant entrepreneurs’ needs while Queens business owners discussed their experiences.

“We have to find better ways to create awareness,” said Paul Quintero, chief executive officer of microfinance loaner Accion USA. “We have to go out to businesses. They can’t come to us.”

Saujani said the Fund for Public Advocacy and Accion surveyed 625 businesses across the city, 31 percent of which were in Queens, that earned under a million dollars. She said 92 percent of those surveyed did not receive help, but 79 percent wanted assistance in financing, legal assistance or marketing.

She said in response to the survey the advocacy fund would be going on a listening tour of businesses in the five boroughs. It will also be doing initiatives such as partnering with technology companies and offering technical assistance to businesses — 87 percent of immigrant businesses in the city do not have a website — as well as creating and distributing a tool kit of services available to businesses.

“I’m excited about what we’re going to do to make change and actually create jobs in this city,” Saujani said.

On the panel, Samantha Bailey-Champagnie, a principal at a public accounting firm who co-managed a Golden Krust restaurant in Jamaica, described the borough as not business-friendly. She said the sales tax is a problem, the regulations are difficult to understand and entrepreneurs are lacking in education.

Nevertheless, she said her neighborhood has possibilities.

“We see lots of potential and lots of growth that can happen in Jamaica,” Bailey-Champagnie said.

Yiorgos Samios, who sells a garlic dip out of Long Island City’s entrepreneur space that is now available in several stores, including Whole Foods, said one pitfall is knowing how to best spend capital when businesses begin.

“People have great ideas,” he said. “They have $30,000, $50,000. They don’t know how to spend it.”

Quintenero said there are four main challenges to immigrants: they often do not have credit history, the culture can be hard to navigate and they may be slow to trust services that were untrustworthy in their own country such as banks, they do not have a stable business community and may feel lonely working on their own and the credentials they had often do not carry over.

“It doesn’t matter what your credentials are outside the United States,” he said. “It matters what your credentials are here.”

Reach Rebecca Henely by e-mail at rhenely@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4564.

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