In Los Angeles, the fashion capital of the West Coast, a small upstart textile and design house has ignited interest as a new trend setter. Elizabeth J. Figueroa & Company, owned and founded by the same Elizabeth J. Figueroa, launched in November 2009. Figueroa decided it was her time to shine and with over 28 years of garment industry experience Figueroa brought along a well-established, national and international clientele.
Figueroa knew she had experience in the textile and design part of the business but wanted to ensure a smooth seamless launch – in January of 2010 she met Marsel Watts, currently the Program Director of the Women’s Business Center hosted by Valley Economic Development Center, who guided Figueroa through the company’s launch.
“I truly recommend the VEDC for support and guidance to any company - no matter what the profession may be,” said Figueroa. “Since I first was introduced to the Women’s Business Center, we have been connected in more ways than one…I have attended their Empowerment Program, The Do’s and Don’ts of Business and Women in Business, The Tory Burch Mentoring Program and Travelers Small Business Risk Education seminars just to name a few.”
“Figueroa took the exceptional industry experience she gained over the years and just took off with the technical assistance the WBC provided,” said Watts. Since her work with the WBC, Figueroa’s textile and design house has grown and sales revenue has tripled. “I now have five on staff with the plan being to hire again in the near future,” said Figueroa.
“I have a reputation for having the experience, knowledge and ability to successfully select and sell in the forthcoming seasons,” said Figueroa. Elizabeth J. Figueroa & Company with the assistance of one of SBA’s four Los Angeles area Women’s Business Centers has become one of the hottest “Go To” places for next season’s trends in textiles. “I believe in my product and have a very strong passion for it!”
When athletes—be it an NFL quarterback, or a working mother of two—want to bring positive change to a workout routine, they seek out a personal trainer. When an aspiring or existing business needs that same kind of inspiration and motivation, the owner should look to a Small Business Development Center.
That is what Chris Stevenson, owner of Stevenson Fitness, did, almost by chance, in the summer of 2010 while finalizing his plans to open a new 7,000 sq. ft. fitness center in Oak Park, California.
Stevenson, a man of many talents, grew up in Ohio and graduated with a business degree from a liberal arts university. He is a martial artist, who competed at a national level, with a black belt in Tae Kwon Do and in Hapkido. After college, he moved to California and found himself waiting tables, doing stunt work in the television and movie industries, and teaching martial arts. This continued, until his mom, one day, said, “Chris, you have a degree, you should use it.”
Stevenson took his mother’s advice to heart, achieved his personal training certification, and started working, both in a private studio as a personal trainer, and at a sports institute, helping athletes with rehabilitation. Shortly thereafter, he began subleasing space from the rehabilitation facility for his own personal training business. Just like Mom suggested, he combined his passion for fitness with his business degree.
In 2005, Stevenson launched a private training studio, which had five contracted trainers. “This was my ‘hard’ business,” said Stevenson. “I was not calculating profit margins, etc. – we gave great service and what we lacked in business smarts, we made up for in hard work. Plus, we were all great trainers!”
Through a friend, Stevenson was led to a Small Business Development Center, hosted by College of the Canyons. The timing was impeccable, as Stevenson was looking for financing to buy equipment for his planned 7,000 sq. ft. facility, with child care, a cardio room, a group exercise studio, and a fully-equipped weight floor, plus an Active Rehab Center. Stevenson was introduced to Ben Tenn, an SBDC counselor, with a wealth of business experience. “Ben helped me manage by the numbers,” said Stevenson. “He helped me with the organizational chart, closing sales and motivating employees.”
Stevenson’s experience with his first studio, coupled with Tenn’s business advice, provided for the successful opening of Stevenson Fitness, which embraces the motto “Your Community, Your Gym.” Stevenson has achieved considerable recognition for his participation in the community, and by providing a family-friendly fitness center. September will mark the fitness center’s two-year anniversary. “We are an ‘A’ business, but a ‘B’ as far as operations are concerned,” said Stevenson. “Now, my focus centers on improving operations, reinvesting in the business, and planning for our second location.”
Tenn is still advising Stevenson, and likened this first fitness center to having a baby – you are always going to have to be watchful, no matter how many years go by. Overall, Stevenson’s goal is to have three fitness centers in three nearby communities, with multi-club passes for members to enjoy the benefits of each location. “It’s been pretty awesome…there is always paranoia, but where I once saw things day to day, I’m now learning to see farther into the future.”
Los Angeles area entrepreneurs are finding a way to “open for business” with the help of small SBA loans, underwritten by a unique program spearheaded by Innovative Bank (IB). This plucky little financial institution recently acquired the Bank of Oakland and then proceeded to carve out a niche in the $5,000 SBA Loan marketplace, using Nevada as a testing ground. Now IB has entered Los Angeles and in a dramatic fashion and is focused on Minority Business Enterprise and its limitless number of small office home office based businesses. Thus, evolved the acronym for IB’s product ---SOHO. Recently, IB has increased its lending policy and has added $10,000 and $15,000 loans to its lending arsenal to satisfy a growing demand for micro-business working capital.
IB’s novel program employs community intermediaries to host loan application workshops, during which the application is completed. The intermediary also reviews poignant information that may accompany the application. Usually within a week to 10 days of receipt of the application by the bank, the intermediary will be able to apprise the applicant of acceptance or whether additional work is necessary to proceed. Loan funding often follows several days after approval by the bank and acceptance by the prospective borrower.
Los Angeles SBA Director Alberto G. Alvarado welcomes the advent of this SOHO SBA loan product as an economic development tool for his tri-county service area. “Innovative Bank has devised an approach which has allowed loan aspirants to “get into business” with little or virtually no cash outlay. It is a true ‘open door policy’ for which we are grateful to the bank,”mused Director Alvarado.
The North LA SBDC, hosted by Valley Economic Development Center, is one of the inaugural intermediaries and has within the last three months generated more than four dozen of these SOHO loans. The strongest contributor to this SBDC’s small loan production success is Marlen Bello, a Business Development Officer (BDO) for North LA SBDC.
As a BDO, Marlen consults with small businesses in need of technical assistance, marketing and business planning, and, in particular, access to capital. She also adds additional value to her consulting repertoire by virtue of the fact that she is fluent in Spanish. This language ability has led to her uniquely and successfully disseminating the message of the SBA’s Loan Programs throughout the Latino small business community in Spanish. Since joining the program, Marlen has hosted and been a facilitator at numerous Spanish and English language loan workshops. These workshops have remarkably attracted an average attendance level of 20 small business owners. As a result of these capital access sessions, more than 100 loans packages were generated for the bank.
Gamaliel “G” Padilla, a Spanish speaking intermediary from the Southwest Los Angeles SBDC, also hosts Spanish language small SBA Loan workshops. However, unlike Marlen Bello, G prefers to meet one-on-one with Spanish speaking entrepreneurs to process their loans. Mr. Padilla a fanatical baseball fan whimsically defers to Ms. Bello’s prowess and leadership in small loan production, respectfully referring to her as the Babe Ruth of micro lending, stating with humor and camaraderie, “Marlen has been lighting up the scoreboard”.
Marlen’s first assignment had her broadly covering the greater LA County area. As part of her functional responsibilities, she would often assist Spanish speaking SBA Economic Development Outreach Specialists, Juan Urbina and Fernando Olivares by inviting their referrals to her workshops. Both men were pleased with Marlen’s professionalism, responsiveness, and productivity. Recently, she transferred to North LA SBDC’s Pacoima Office to focus on that municipality’s Latino and Latina small business community, which is experiencing dramatic growth and in need of working capital. Since her arrival, Marlen has already booked 5 loans with many more in the pipeline.
District Director Alvarado expressed pride in Ms. Bello’s achievements stating, “Marlen Bello has worked this small office home office loan program to successfully access capital for her constituent micro businesses. I hope every SOHO business in Pacoima reads this article and considers registering for one of her workshops”.
For information on SBA loan workshops offered by Marlen Bello, please call her at the Pacoima Office (818) 834-9860. G Padilla can be reached at (310) 973-3157.
To find out more about SBA Loan Programs and Services visit the Agency’s user friendly web site www.sba.gov or call one of the following Economic Development Specialists at the SBA’s Los Angeles District Office:
- Sandra Buck (818) 552-3308
- Chuck Edgington (818) 552- 3241
- Barbara Madel (818) 552-3314
- Fernando Olivares (818) 552 -3256
- Juan Urbina (818) 552- 3244