Columbia Community Business Program Provides Training and Support to Local Entrepreneurs

June 1, 2010Bookmark and Share
Program organizers and local entrepreneurs talk about how Columbia is helping mid-sized businesses in Upper Manhattan. (5:54)
Columbia Business School held a luncheon in May to honor participants in a new two-year program that helps mid-sized businesses and not-for-profit organizations in Upper Manhattan.
The initiative, known as the Columbia Community Business Program, offers participants routine one-on-one guidance on a pro-bono basis. In addition to instruction from faculty, alumni and outside consultants, participants have access to Columbia’s resources for professional and technical assistance.
The program is run by the Eugene Lang Entrepreneurship Center, part of the business school, and is co-sponsored by Columbia Law School and The Fu Foundation School of Applied Science and Engineering.
Twelve businesses participated in the inaugural cohort. They were selected from a pool of applicants with established ventures that generate at least $250,000 in annual revenues. At the luncheon, business owners were presented with letters of congratulations from Murray Low, adjunct associate professor of management and director of the Lang Center.
“The University has a responsibility within the community in which it’s located to make a positive contribution,” said Low. “And over the last two years, you have given back by creating a dynamic business community in Upper Manhattan.”
Program participant Princess Jenkins owns the Brownstone Boutique on West 125th Street, which has grown more than 25 percent in the last year. Jenkins said she had never heard of a local program that addressed the needs of mid-level businesses like hers. “There was no one speaking to our needs, as business owners in Harlem who were really in need of substantial information, mentoring and resources, to really help not only sustain, but grow our businesses,” she said.
Participating business owners met in group settings and discussed business practices like cost-control, budgeting, client retention, negotiations and Web development.
“Being in the program provides me with a sounding board—something that entrepreneurs often don’t have,” said Kevin Walters, managing director of Creole Restaurant and Supper Club in East Harlem. “We entrepreneurs constantly talk to ourselves, running analysis in our heads, but in the program we can do that out loud with each other.” Walters has expanded his business 25 percent in one year and will soon open a second restaurant.
The program started in November 2008 in the midst of the global financial crisis. As the local and national economy went into recession, organizers quickly shifted the focus from growth to survival. Despite the change in strategy, some companies were still able to make small financial gains. The organizers will follow up with the owners in one year, and expect to see positive results as economic activity has begun to pick up again.
“We made the legs of the stool stronger, and we’re primed to see major growth as soon as the economy turns,” said Barbara Roberts, the lead facilitator and coach of the program, who has 20 years of consulting experience.
Several notable community business leaders attended the luncheon, including Quenia Abru, president and chief executive officer of the New York Women’s Chamber of Commerce; Hope Knight, chief executive officer of the Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone; and Marsha Firestone, president of the Women Presidents’ Organization. This summer, administrators from the business school will begin recruiting the next cohort for the program.