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With just a dream and no prior entrepreneurial experience, Michael Tracy’s first foray into business ownership occurred in 2004 when he bought an old, distressed bar in New York City’s fashion district. He transformed the run-down business into Katwalk NYC Bar
& Lounge– a sleek, chic and stylish lounge that has since become a local hotspot, hosts parties for major corporations, and provides a once-a-week venue for HBO’s Sex and the City fans.
Previously living a lucrative corporate life at one of New York’s leading global investment banks– Lehman Brothers, Tracy found that career path to be unrewarding. He also didn’t care to see the way hard-working people were so easily let go from their jobs. At a loss as to what to do for fulfillment and satisfaction, he finally decided to combine his business savvy with his entrepreneurial spirit. “I wanted to be my own master,” said Tracy.
Ready to invest $165,000 of his own money Tracy visited the U.S. Small Business Administration-funded, Pace University Small Business Development Center to take advantage of its free business counseling services. “I wanted a business that I could ramp up quickly and that had big profit margins, so I choose the bar business,” said Tracy. He worked with SBDC Counselor, Greg Callender, to get a better understanding of what it took to run a small business. They also put together a loan application package that set Tracy up with a $200,000 HSBC Bank loan backed by the SBA.
With the combined funds Tracy purchased the troubled bar, situated close to all the major transit hubs, and ga ve the 3000 square-foot space a massive face lift, all the while still working at Lehman. He did the build-out himself and created an interior designed to appeal to all the female fashion industry workers and to women in general. “Even the name of my business is targeted at women,” said Tracy. “I figured if the women came, the men would follow.”
Tracy included a kitchen in his build-out in order to offer New-American small plate food, and poured money into a swanky upstairs ‘Kat Lounge’ that has been used for corporate gatherings for the likes of Mitsubishi, NBC, UBS and United Way.
Tracy has also given back to the community by hosting and donating to numerous charitable events including City Harvest, the Libby Ross Foundation for Breast Cancer Research, the Unicef Fundraiser for Tsunami Victims and iMentor. And each Wednesday, the bar features Sex and the City Night where patrons can watch all their favorite episodes on the big flat screens with 10 percent of the night’s proceeds go ing to the National Breast Cancer Foundation.
Tracy’s decision to leave Lehman Brothers now seems prescient and he has an abundance of advice for other aspiring owners. A member of the New York State Restaurant Association and the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce, he advises others to join their respective industry’s trade association and local commerce for the support they offer. He also suggests, “Use Business Pro to build your business plan, have a public relations policy and be up front about everything. People know when you are snowing them.”
“If you need any support starting your businesses – whether it is guidance or you need financial assistance, visit your local SBA and SBDC office,” Tracy adds. Without their support, I would not have been able to achieve my entrepreneurial dream. They provided me the leverage I needed to implement my vision of the, as he puts it, purr-fect bar.”
Yes, it’s true. Strange as it may sound, you can now wear and elegantly carry those busted-up umbrellas you see blowing down the street and deposited in trashcans on rainy, windswept days. You will also be doing your part for the environment by recycling what was once considered trash, thanks to Brooklyn-based, HIMANE, Inc.
Designer, seamstress, patternmaker and HIMANE owner, Catherine Edouard-Charlot, scours the neighborhood for those castaway umbrellas and recreates them as ‘60’s vintage eveningwear, jackets and handbags among other items. Those reconstructed products are the start of her emerging earth-conscious line of clothing which includes recycled shirts, jackets and pants. She also produces fashion items from more traditional fabrics like cotton and silk.
Originally a clothing designer and business owner in Haiti, Edouard-Charlot was experiencing a little success with clients from afar as The Netherlands. She emigrated to the U.S. when she was 28 years old and undertook studies at the Fashion Institute of Technology to complement her degree from Haiti’s Verona Alta Costura School of Fashion. She then started a home-based business producing custom-designed wedding dresses, and doctors and nurses scrubs, in addition to pattern- and sample-making services. But she never seemed to be able to grow the business beyond her one-person operation.
That was until she visited the Women’s Business Center of Brooklyn’s Business Outreach Center Network. The WBC, funded by the U.S. Small Business Administration, provides free usiness counseling to nascent and existing entrepreneurs. In Edouard-Charlot case, the WBC’s Liliana Blanco helped her commit both a business plan and marketing plan to paper. “Those are the plans I needed to strategize the growth of my business,” said Edouard-Charlot. “I can’t even find the words to describe how much Liliana and the other WBC counselors helped me.”
Working from her business plan, Edouard-Charlot moved the business from her apartment into a more convenient space in downtown Brooklyn, so that she can fill larger orders. As her business continues to grow, Edouard-Charlot looks forward to the day when she can start her care center for young ladies. “I see these young girls hanging out on the streets after school and it breaks my heart. I would like to create a center where these young girls will come after school and learn a trade such as sewing, crocheting, pattern-making or even candle making.”
Edouard-Charlot named her business, HIMANE (pronounced ee-mann), after her late mother. Himane means “believe in” and “faith.” The only question remaining to this story is, ‘who will be the first celebrity believing in, and decked-out in, that four-dollar umbrella you tossed away?’ HIMANE can be found online at www.himane.com
Deborah Brenner had been running a successful marketing and public relations firm until 2005 when she took a fortuitous trip to California’s Napa Valley. There she met a woman winemaker who piqued her curiosity about women in that industry. Having a journalistic background, Brenner decided to do research on the topic, which led her to write a successful and first-of-its-kind book.
Her book describes the travails and successes of 20 women in a male-dominated industry and was selected by Wine Spectator in 2007 as "critical reading…one of the best new books of the year for any wine lover’s library." Having learned about the hurdles these women faced, and wanting to further champion their stories, Brenner actually went into the winemaking business in 2005 and launched the Women of the Vine Cellars label, a successful wine importing and marketing company which unites women winemakers from around the world under one label. The label is now helping those women gain ever-more traction in the highly competitive global marketplace for wine.
In addition to her business success, Brenner has been very active supporting and promoting women small business owners through frequent guest lecturing, promotional opportunities and connecting them with the people and organizations that can help them grow and thrive. In one instance, she took her experience in applying for, and securing, an SBA loan and mentored a winemaker to the point where she too secured an SBA loan for her winery in California.
For her work on behalf of woman-owned small businesses, and to hoist alongside her numerous other awards, Brenner received the SBA’s 2009 Women’s Business Champion Award for both the agency’s New York District and New York Region.