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Starting his five-person print shop in Manhattan, producing the humblest of printing jobs— restaurant take-out menus— entrepreneur K.Y. Chow has since grown his business to a 30-employee operation in a new 18,000 square foot facility in Long Island City. That’s no small accomplishment in these recessionary times. But, as a Hong Kong emigrant to the U.S., Chow is accustomed to overcoming hurdles. In his homeland he had been a merchant banker managing multi-million dollar portfolios. In immigrating to New York in 1987, Chow originally took a position as a consultant to manage a downtown-Manhattan hotel project.
The hotel developer offered Chow the opportunity to buy one of his businesses— an 850 square-foot print shop in New York City’s Chinatown. At the same time, Chow had listened to the tales of friends who were laid off from their corporate jobs and to successful business owners who advised that business ownership was the way to controlling one’s destiny. Accustomed to the corporate world, Chow went through much soul-searching before finally buying the business in 1993. "This was a major mid-life decision," said Chow. "I saw people have permanent ‘confidence breakdowns’ even though they were eventually re-hired."
But before diving into entrepreneurship, Chow conducted extensive research into the printing business, traveled back to Hong Kong to learn business management principles and served as an unpaid intern in a print shop to learn the business from the ground up.
Chow took over the business with the simple motto, "to provide the best possible products and services to his customers." His company, Grand Meridian, or GM Printing, servicing design studios and public relations firms, soon outgrew its space and relocated to a 9,400 square foot facility in Manhattan. Contributing to the company’s growth was the fact that Chow had learned the intricacies of government contracting and managed to secure contracts from both New York City and State agencies including the MTA, the LIRR and the City Council— an expertise he now shares with other small business owners trying to grow their businesses.
Specializing in the offset printing of books, magazines, catalogs, brochures, newsletters and newspapers, and with annual sales approaching $3 million, Chow required even larger quarters. And he found just what he needed in Long Island City. It was a 13,000 square foot building to which he added an additional 5,000 square feet.
The purchase and build-out of the new production facility this past May, as well as the purchase of the "mother-of-all printing presses," the 8-color Heidelberg Perfector was made possible by a $4.1 million loan under the U.S. Small Business Administration’s 504 Loan Program in partnership with the Empire State Certified Development Corporation and Bank of America.
As part of the move Chow also took advantage of a 12 year, energy-usage benefit under New York City’s Energy Cost Savings Program as well as a grant from its Relocation Employment Assistance Program. New York State helped out with both an energy efficiency grant and a relocation grant.
The new set-up is going to enable GM to grow even further and allow Chow to devote time to another passion, specifically, helping others. He serves as a board member of the Chinatown Partnership Local Development Corporation with the goal of marketing, and making space improvements in, lower Manhattan, which still suffers the effects of 9/11. "It was originally difficult to decide to serve on the board because it has such an important mandate and requires a significant amount of time," said Chow. "But my philosophy of giving back to the community, and particularly helping immigrants improve their lives, required that I devote the time."
Inventor Makes a Splash
Minneapolis graphic designer and life-long musician Sid Tincher found herself in a familiar predicament in 2001. While playing her guitar, she reached for a drink. She recalls, “What should have been a simple task turned into a chaotic domino effect – my headstock hit my microphone stand, knocking it into my music stand – they both fell over sending equipment and paper tumbling down onto the very drink I was trying to retrieve.”
Sid started looking for a safe home for her future beverages. Not finding a holder to her liking, she went down to her basement and started tinkering. Sid came up with a slick, fun design. “Musicians began clamoring for one of their own when they saw my SwirlyGig on stage. I made a few more in my basement, but realized quickly that I had a viable and needed product.”
Now, SwirlyGig is the premier cup and beverage holder for musicians and stage artists. “I think that what people responded to the most was the fun, playful simplicity of the design. There are no clamps or screws – it functions simply and swiftly with its own friction and gravity. It’s lightweight, sleek, and the swirly shape just looks cool!”
SwirlyGigs offer a safe, convenient, stylish and lightweight beverage holder that attaches easily to microphone stands. SwirlyGig Industries offers the Original SwirlyGig, SwirlyGig II for larger microphone stand and tubing, and SwirlySchtick drumstick holders.
SwirlyGigs are beginning to make an entry into other markets as well with sales in the medical industry already mounting. Because SwirlyGigs work on any standard tubing, the possibilities for new markets are many.
Early on, Sid sought help in building her business by completing the Neighborhood Development Center’s (NDC) Entrepreneur Program – subsequently earning both the Seward Neighborhood Entrepreneur Award and the Paul and Sheila Wellstone Innovative Product Award. She learned of the SBA and all its resources through the NDC, and was paired with SCORE counselors. SCORE provided valuable advice, boosted her confidence, and helped her make valuable connections.
As a resource partner with the SBA, SCORE provides information vital to small business success. This includes counseling on financing options, business planning, marketing strategies, product development and more. Individual members and counseling teams with diverse business knowledge and experience provide one-on-one, confidential counseling at no cost to the business owner. Currently, Sid is receiving one-on-one assistance from the Minnesota Trade Office to export SwirlyGigs.
Maintaining a business in these recessionary times is difficult enough. But to grow a business now, and to do so in what is arguably the most ethnically diverse county in the country with its ongoing influx of immigrants speaking 150 different languages, must require some sort of exceptional service. And that’s the secret to success for the Rosedale Gifted Academy Elementary & Preschool.
Coming from Jamaica herself at age 33 to explore new opportunities, Rosedale Owner, Pauline Brown, first tried a career in geriatric nursing. It took only a year for Brown to decide that the profession, with its overnight hours, would not accommodate the lifestyle she desired.
One day a friend asked her to baby sit her two-month old. Subsequently, another friend asked her to sit a three-month old, and another, a five month old. Brown soon realized she had found her calling and opened a daycare business— first in her home and then growing to a rented facility. She now owns that facility and enrollment has grown to 60 children.
That enrollment ballooned primarily by word-of-mouth marketing. "I have parents from as far away as Brooklyn, the Bronx and Exit 32 of the LIE dropping off their children," said Brown. "We’re also ‘multi-generational’ now, with parents enrolling their first-borns, second-borns and third-borns."
Wanting to grow her business further, Brown required a loan with which to acquire additional classroom space. So she approached several lending institutions with her proposal to acquire a second building, just steps away from the current facility.
None of the lenders entertained her proposal, but fortuitously one of them referred Brown to the York College Small Business Development Center. The SBDC is funded by the U.S. Small Business Administration and offers free business counseling and training. The SBDC counselors sized up her project and decided the Greater Jamaica Local Development Corporation might be interested in her proposal.
The counselors helped Brown tweak her business plan and arranged for several meetings with the GJLDC. The GJLDC ultimately extended Brown a $150,000 loan at an extremely attractive 5 percent interest rate. The capital infusion allowed Rosedale to grow its space by 25 percent and will accommodate enrollment to over 100, and hire five new employees in addition to its current roster of 14.
"Our schools are growing with daily enrollment and that gives us the opportunity to change young lives for the better," said Brown. "That’s attributable in part to the work of the SBDC team and I highly recommend that other entrepreneurs take advantage of them."