Young Entrepreneur Moves Family Forward with Great Determination and a Little Help from the SBA

BAYAMÓN, PR -- Jatniel Vázquez-Álvarez knows all too well the importance of hard work and the immeasurable value of family.

At 28, he has already dedicated almost half a lifetime to building a career, an enterprise and a better quality of life for those he loves.

Barely 15 years old, Jatniel began working as a refrigeration technician’s assistant at his father’s business in Bayamón, Puerto Rico, where he not only learned the trade but also all operational aspects of a business. His skill led him to graduate from the Tomás Ongay Vocational High School with a certificate in refrigeration.  About the same time Jatniel was completing his education, his father’s business took a downturn, and financial hardship settled upon the family.  Jatniel then found a job working the night shift as refrigeration technician at a multinational pharmaceutical company with operations in Fajardo, a town on the island’s east coast. 

A couple of years later, however, downsizing strategies led the company to eliminate the night shift, leaving dozens of people unemployed, among them Jatniel. The young man, who by then had close to six years of experience in the trade, felt that the time was right to go out on his own. 

“I had between $8,000 and $9,000 in a bank account, so I rented a small space on Road 167 in Bayamón,” Jatniel says.  “I also needed to buy a small truck, but since I didn’t have much credit experience I asked my grandmother if she would co-sign a loan for me, and she did.”

In 1999, Jatniel established Jayvee Air Conditioning Inc., a company engaged in the selling, installation and maintenance of air conditioning systems.  Jatniel’s mother Maritza, who at the time worked at Police Headquarters in Hato Rey, applied for a one-year leave of absence and went to help out her son.

“It was just the two of us working in a tight little space,” Jatniel recalls.  “No more than 15 by 15 square feet.”

But tight a space as it was, Jatniel was well on his way to becoming one of the leading distributors of mini-split air conditioning units in Puerto Rico. Before establishing his business, Jatniel had secured the endorsement of air conditioner manufacturer York, leader in its field.  When Jatniel began advertising as a York dealer with financing options, his phones rang off the hook. 

“I had a neighbor who worked in advertising, and he suggested I invest in placing a few ads to promote my company --and it worked,” the young entrepreneur indicates.  “There was such a boom in phone calls that I had to subcontract employees, and I positioned myself as the number one York mini-split unit dealer. That is when I called my dad to come work for me.”

A year later, when sales surpassed $500,000, Jatniel visited Banco Popular de Puerto Rico, where he was introduced to the SBA’s 504 Loan Program.  Also known as the Certified Development Company Program, the 504 program is designed to promote economic development in the community by creating jobs.  Its main purpose is to provide long-term, fixed financing to purchase land, machinery and equipment and for business expansion.  A 504 loan originates through a CDC – a non-profit corporation that invests in its community’s economic development and helps generate jobs—together with a bank.

Marketing Small Business Finance Corporation joined the SBA and Banco Popular to back Jatniel’s project. With the loan, the entrepreneur purchased a building on the same road where he was originally located.  By then, Jayvee Air Conditioning employed six people full time. And, although sales were steady, Jatniel knew he needed to diversify if he wanted to continue growing.

“I had always admired construction projects and knew that I also wanted to position myself as a contractor, so I started looking for commercial clients,” he indicates.

Jayvee Air Conditioning’s first commercial client was a security company, later joined by the municipalities of Bayamón, San Juan, Carolina, Guaynabo and Cataño. 

“The most difficult aspect of it all has been my age,” Jatniel admits.  “When you go to an auction most contractors are older.  Young people are often underestimated.  I know for a fact that I can do a job just as well or even better.”

Today, 11 years after establishment, Jayvee Air Conditioning is recognized as one of the leaders in industrial and commercial air conditioning systems in Puerto Rico, representing such popular brands as York, Carrier and Trane, generating close to $2 million in revenues, and employing 14 people.  Among his clients, in addition to the aforementioned municipalities, the company serves the Puerto Rico Department of Treasury and the University of Puerto Rico, among others.  And, of course, Jatniel continues serving residential clients that still come his way.

In order to promptly satisfy his clients’ demands, Jatniel also took advantage of the SBA’s 7(a) Loan Guaranty Program, which provides long-term financing to acquire equipment and machinery, inventory, fixtures and accessories, renovations, purchase land, build new buildings, purchase existing businesses, and for the repayment of debts.  The SBA can currently guarantee up to 85 percent on loans up to $150,000 and up to 75 percent on loans higher than $150,000 up to $1.5 million.

As a matter of fact, Jatniel was one of the first to benefit from agency provisions under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, saving thousands of dollars in guaranty fees shortly after President Obama signed the bill into law.

When asked about his greatest satisfaction, Jatniel proudly states that it was “being able to move my family forward.  Our financial situation was precarious at one time.  I always told my mom not to worry, that when I made it I was going to buy her a house.”

Jatniel made good on his word. One Saturday morning he woke up, looked through the newspaper’s construction section and set out to buy a house for his mother, who has continued working with her son.  In addition, Jatniel makes it possible for his sister to study engineering at the Polytechnic University of Puerto Rico and employs his brother as a refrigeration technician. Jatniel’s wife Emily also works at Jayvee, emphasizing this young man’s principle that there is nothing more important than family.

During Small Business Week celebrations held in May 2010, Jatniel was honored as SBA’s Young Entrepreneur of the Year in the Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands district and all of Region II, which also includes districts in New York State and New Jersey. 

“You can achieve anything you set your mind to,” Jatniel concludes.

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