Minority-owned businesses benefit as Hofstra ‘Ascends’

New heights: A Hofstra University-centered government/industry/academia partnership will bring specialized training (and a potential influx of capital) to minority-owned businesses on Long Island.
By GREGORY ZELLER //

A new university/government/industry outreach program focused on minority entrepreneurs received an executive-grade kickoff Tuesday at Hofstra University.

Funded by a $350,000 grant from JPMorgan Chase, the Ascend Long Island program – what Hofstra called “the first suburban outpost” of Chase’s larger Ascend 2020 effort – launched with a half-day symposium and an impressive 24 regional businesses already in the fold.

Ascend 2020 is a joint effort of JPMorgan Chase’s Small Business Forward Initiative and the University of Washington’s Seattle-based Foster School of Business, focused primarily on inner-city businesses. Long Island is not huge on inner cities, though it does have its fair share of traditionally underserved minority communities, making it a workable litmus test for the Ascend 2020 model.

The Long Island pilot program combines the progressive might of Hofstra’s National Center for Suburban Studies, Center for Entrepreneurship and Scott Skodnek Business Development Center with the fiscal wisdom of Brooklyn-based BOC Capital Corp., an affiliate of the national Business Outreach Center Network and a U.S. Treasury Department-sanctioned Community Development Financial Institution.

Their target: minority-owned small businesses in Hempstead, Freeport, Roosevelt and Uniondale. Over the course of a 12-week program, business owners from those areas will attend a “boot camp” and multiple workshops designed to help them secure procurement deals with government agencies, regional organizations and private companies eager to work with Minority and Woman-Owned Business Enterprises.

Stacey Sikes: Promising partnership.

It all leads to a “procurement conference,” at which the freshly trained business owners will pitch their products and services to potential clients. “Ongoing mentorship” for participants who finish the program will also be provided, according to Center for Entrepreneurship Executive Dean Stacey Sikes.

Tuesday’s kickoff symposium at Hofstra’s Frank G. Zarb School of Business included remarks from Nassau County Executive Laura Curran, Hofstra University President Stuart Rabinowitz and multiple JPMorgan Chase executives, all of whom welcomed the two dozen minority-owned businesses already accepted into Ascend Long Island.

Designed specifically for existing small businesses, the regional program represents a “unique partnership” between academia, industry and government, according to Sikes, who trumpeted an unprecedented opportunity to “mentor diverse entrepreneurs in our local communities and provide them with access to capital.”

“These are businesses that already have revenues,” the executive dean told Innovate LI. “We’re looking to help them scale up and increase their customer base, and to potentially get contracts with larger organizations looking to meet their own MWOB goals.

“We hope to bolster economic development in these communities,” she added. “And we are lucky to have JPMorgan Chase backing this, and to work with BOC Capital.”

Both of those corporate partners will provide more than just financial support. BOC Capital representatives will actually lead financial-strategy workshops, Sikes noted, part of nine weeks of procurement classes that also include direct instruction from Zarb School professors.

JPMorgan Chase, meanwhile, will closely monitor its Ascend 2020 tentpole, with visions of expanding it both regionally and nationally.

Go team: The advisors and professors of Hofstra’s Ascend Long Island effort.

“This is just a pilot, and we would love to see it grow,” Sikes said. “After this initial program, we will definitely work with [program partners] on opportunities for growth and expansion.”

For now, the focus is on the pilot and its 24 participating businesses. Tuesday’s kickoff was a fine start – “the passion in the room was amazing,” Sikes noted – but now it’s time for the Ascend Long Island partners to roll up their sleeves.

“They all share our business- and community-development goals,” Sikes said. “And they have small-business capital that they can deploy specifically in these communities.

“They are going to be helping us teach courses and providing clinical counseling for the participating businesses,” the executive dean added. “We are really pleased to join a supply chain of larger organizations that share these goals.”