Starting Small in the Bronx
For New Yorkers who dream big—but often have limited education, assets, or English language skills—running one’s own business can be the right career choice, if not the only choice. But without the proper footing and guidance, one wrong move can end in financial ruin. “We see people who have not incorporated their businesses, and when a deal goes south, their personal assets are at risk,” says Jennifer DaSilva, founder and director of the three-year-old nonprofit Start Small, Think Big!
The organization provides legal and financial help tailored to the needs of budding entrepreneurs, and in 2012, received its first-ever foundation grant from The Trust. Other foundations soon followed suit. This year, a $50,000 grant will help expand the agency’s services for entrepreneurs as it works closely with Business Outreach Center Network’s (BOCNet) new office in the Bronx.
|Daniel Grunes representing his company, Taproot Organics, at a trade fair at the Javits Center.
“Our approach is to take into account the professional and personal needs of a client, even if that means advising the client to hold off on starting a business. For instance, when someone has unstable housing or is deep in debt, our advice would be to delay incorporating and save the $2,000 it costs. We would then try and connect them with housing and debt help.” For businesses that are ready to blossom, lawyers from prestigious firms accustomed to negotiating multi-million dollar deals provide pro bono help with commercial leases, patents, trademarks, and incorporation. DaSilva adds: “They apply the same laws—just on a different scale.”
Start Small, Think Big! and BOCNet will be situated next to one another at the Sunshine Bronx Business Incubator, where they will help entrepreneurs from throughout the borough, including those under the same roof. A $60,000 grant to BOCNet, which already has several offices in the other boroughs, will help provide guidance on improving credit, cash management, loan acquisition, and developing good business plans.
Case Study: Of Love, Soap, and Trademarks
Three years ago, a motorcycle accident left Daniel Grunes on a long road to recovery from multiple surgeries and battling an infection. On partial disability and without the paycheck from his job as a restaurant manager, the load of caring for a family of five fell on his wife Zaida. “The stress triggered several auto-immune disorders that made her skin extremely sensitive,” said Daniel.
He noticed that the commercial body wash she used was irritating, so as a gift he made her some soap from scratch. She loved it and her skin started clearing up. “When I was a kid, I made soap with my mother and grandmother—so I did some research and put my cooking and kitchen chemistry experience to work.”
He created new recipes and blends and started selling soaps at the local farmers’ market. Eventually, he needed some accounting and legal help and found Start Small, Think Big! It helped him with his company’s branding, referred him to a Fordham law clinic to help him submit a trademark application, and connected him with Kiva Zip, a microloan program.
“Start Small, Think Big! connected me with the services I needed so I could focus on expanding my customer base. I started more wholesale accounts so I could invest more face- time into building new markets. My products are now sold from Westchester to Brighton Beach and online.”
Taproot Organics is now Daniel and Zaida’s full-time venture. Though his days are very long, Daniel is thankful that he can spend quality time with his family. “Yesterday I took my kids to the zoo and then after their bedtime, I made a few batches of soap.”