In July of 2007 Johanny Cepeda of Reading, PA made the business decision to purchase a struggling restaurant. Her creativity and natural entrepreneurial spirit quickly turned her “Mi Casa Su Casa Café,” and its revamped menu reflecting her specialty of fresh food with a Caribbean twist, into a successful business.
The Women’s Business Center at Community First Fund first started to work with Johanny in 2008 when her business catered a local event for the U.S. Small Business Administration’s resource partner. It turned out to be a serendipitous meeting and a great working relationship began to simmer.
SBA resource partners like the Women’s Business Center at Community First Fund provide training, customized business counseling, loan capital, and advocacy support to small business enterprises. The goal of the Center is to develop more knowledgeable, better prepared business owners through these services and outside resources.
Jim Buerger of SBA resource partner Community First Fund counseled Cepeda on the finances and cash flow for her business and she later applied for and received a loan from Community First Fund to help purchase inventory and expand working capital as well as to finance new equipment and make leasehold improvements.
“Community First Fund has been instrumental in my success. I wouldn't be where I am today if it weren't for the [Community First Fund] team. I have had the pleasure of working with a phenomenal team of professionals that have been genuine, dedicated and supportive of my business,” Cepeda said.
Cepeda her experience with the Women’s Business Center at Community First Fund was very positive for her and her business: “They made the loan process accessible, feasible, attainable and repayable. I paid off my loan in less than 7 years. I absolutely love] and what they stand for. They understand the needs of small business and I am forever grateful for what they have done for me and my family.”
Over the next several years, Cepeda, Buerger and later Jonel Ruiz of Community First Fund continued to work together not only on the business and loan but also through different community events. Cepeda is an active member of the Reading community who works with up and coming entrepreneurs through the Latino Business Resource Center in Reading where she speaks at their Women to Women Round Tables and participates as a judge in business plan competitions.
“Johanny is the perfect entrepreneur. She is articulate and community-minded. She has strong business acumen and not only thinks of the success of her own business but also of the community as a whole,” said Jonel Ruiz, Director of Community Lending at Community First Fund. “I have enjoyed watching her restaurant grow and always feel proud when a client of ours achieves as much success as Johanny has. I know that she will continue to grow her business and will achieve everything she puts her mind to.”
Johanny has recently expanded and opened a second restaurant in a new location at Goggle Works, a well-known community art and resource center in Reading.
The Women’s Business Center at Community First Fund serves 13 counties in central and eastern Pennsylvania by providing training, customized business counseling, loan capital, and advocacy support to small business owners. The overall vision of the organization is to create vibrant and diverse communities where individuals prosper and are free from poverty and discrimination.
“SBA and our resource partners are proud to be a part of Johanny’s success and it’s wonderful to see her success as an example not just of women-owned business success but of the amazing difference our resource and lending partners, like the Women’s Business Center at Community First Fund can make,” said Philadelphia District Director David Dickson.
SBA directs a national entrepreneurial network that provides mentoring, training, resources and business assistance to more than 1.2 million entrepreneurs and small businesses across the country each year, and 2013 was no different. In fiscal year 2013, these efforts helped entrepreneurs to get more than $4.5 billion in capital infusion, start over 15,000 businesses, and create and/or retain more than 68,000 jobs.
Under the direction of the SBA’s Office of Entrepreneurial Development, more than a million people who were interested in starting or expanding a business received business counseling and assistance through SBA’s counseling and training programs:
- Small Business Development Centers (SBDCs) counseled and trained 532,377 clients;
- SCORE, For the Life of Your Business, counseled and trained nearly 350,000 clients, and
- Women's Business Centers (WBCs) provided assistance to 133,765 clients.
These vital SBA resource partners give quality one-on-one consulting, training, counseling and entrepreneurial education that can help small businesses start, grow, and compete in the marketplace. And they have helped small businesses across the country to raise start up and growth capital, start new companies and sell billions of dollars in products and services world-wide.
“We’re so pleased to be able to work with the SBA Women’s Business Center program to support entrepreneurs like Johanny. It is innovative partnerships like this that are making the difference for women entrepreneurs through increased opportunities for learning and success in starting and growing small businesses throughout the region,” says Joan Brodhead, the COO of Community First Fund.