April 17, 2000
Think Small, Win Big: Many women, minorities find support in small, targeted business groups
By Carrie Mason-Draffen, Staff Writer
Talk to Queens entrepreneurs like Kathy Kwong and you'll see why new business groups focusing on women and minorities are gaining ground in the metropolitan area. With an assist from the Manhattan-based Asian Women in Business, Kwong, president and co-founder of Euro-American Uniforms in Long Island City, netted Brooklyn Union Gas as a customer.
Great Neck resident Joan Chao, a member of the same business group and owner of Oriental Lumberyard Inc. in Ridgewood said she has received numerous referrals from the organization.
Shanqua Harrison, a billing manger for HIP Plan of New York who has a part-time financial consulting business, said the New York chapter of the National Association of Black Accountants provides a comfortable, intimate setting for someone starting out in business.
"It's just enough for me now," she said.
For years, business groups focusing on the needs of women and minority entrepreneurs have been cropping up - and growing rapidly - in the metro area. Some began during the 1980s and '90s, when Census data showed a 62 percent jump in businesses owned by minorities and a 43 percent rise in those owned by women. Both grew much faster than the over 26 percent increase in businesses.
Asian Women in Business, a technical support group for entrepreneurs, begain in 1995. The Asian American Business Development Center, also offering technical support, began the year before.
The New York Chapter of the National Association of Black Accountants started in the '70s and has more than 700 members.
On Long Island, Black Women Enterprises, a Hempstead-based 700-member technical support group, is a '90s product. The Long Island Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, which has 300 members, began in 1989.
The reasons given for joining such groups boil down to this: Because of the smaller setting, members say they have easier access to valuable contacts and feel an almost automatic comfort level.
John Wang, president of the Asian American Business Development Center, said his group offers seminars on access to capital and to the marketplace to target what he said are common problems facing Asian-American entrepreneurs.
"We understand how the Asian-American business community has evolved," he said.
At an Asian Women in Business holiday party in Chinatown four years ago, Kwong was seated with some Brooklyn Union officials. Her table partners gave her the names of company contacts who led her to the procurement office. The office eventually awarded her a small contract. Now Brooklyn Union is a regular customer.
Though the association wasn't the only group to help her gain entry to Brooklyn Union, she said it was one of the "key reasons" she got to the right people.
"This group of women is so knowledgeable and we are supporting each other," she said.
Chao, who joined the Asian group four years ago, agreed.
"I got a lot of referrals," she said. "They work with a lot of government agencies. They give workshops, and then they introduce you to them."
Jamaica business owner Alvin Hartley has had similar success. He's the owner of Tri-Masters International, a sports-marketing and special events promotional firm, and the president of the 75-member New York Chapter of the National Alliance of Market Developers, a marketing group.
He joined the alliance after a business acquaintance asked him to speak at one of the group's meetings about six years ago. From there Hartley spoke at the national convention and wound up getting several thousand dollars' worth of contracts from some entrepreneurs attending that night.
"For a small company, it helped us to keep afloat and establish ourselves even more and to use those accounts to get more accounts," Hartley said. Linda Michelle Baron, wo owns Harlin Jacques Publications, a small educational publishing and consulting business in Hempstead, Long Island, credited Black Women Enterprises with helping her snag a multi-year contract valued at more than $500,000 from the New York City Board of Education.
Baron was already a board vendor but wanted to bid on another contract. She turned to Vicki Wacksman, co-founder at Black Women Enterprises for help in finding three consultants to teach a multicultural program she was proposing. She also needed an accountant to help crunch numbers for the proposal. Wacksman found the people Baron needed.
"It was such a short turnaround tiem that there was no way I could have done it without her help," Baron said.
Beyond the business contacts, cultural affinity explains why some minority entrepreneurs tilt toward the smaller groups, targeted groups.
"You feel very at east," Kwong said. "Some of the other groups are very stuffy." Said Hartley: "When you join a small group, you feel a sense of unity, of focus, that 'm no the only one in this."
Harrison, a business consultant who lives in Briarwood and works in Manhattan, joined the National Association of Black Accountants five years ago because she wanted to gear her business to African-American entrepreneurs. She has obtained a couple of steady clients through the group and does the taxes of many others, she said. Layered over all this, however, is the particular ease she feels in the group.
"I'm not uncomfortable in any networking session. But I can just be myself at an NABA function," she said.
A lack of business groups for women facing similar cultural barriers is what prompted Bonnie Wong to found Asian Women in Business. "I would to to different women business groups and I would usually integrate the conference," she said. "It was disturbing to see that they [other women} were not there."
With the group's founding, "Now we have a place where Asian women can come and feel more comfortable and relate to people who are going through the same challenges."
Wong recalls sensitizing a non-Asian speaker whom she brought in to talk about roadblocks to success. The speaker attributed the diffidence of a woman in attendance to her presumed Buddhist background. Wong said she pointed out to the speaker that Asians come from all different backgrounds, even atheism.
"I was horrified," she said. "It's like another stereotype."
Wong's group has worked to become even more diverse. Last year, it formally joined forces with 100 Black Women of New York and 100 Hispanic Women to offer their members computer training and seminars on cultural awareness. She said the groups wanted to lay to rest a stereotype that they are contentious toward one another.
"We want to dispel that image," she said, noting that "we face some of the same hurdles."
Though smaller groups have more drawing power for them, the officers and members believe it's foolhardy to turn their backs on larger groups.
Kwong is not yet a member of the Queens Chamber of Commerce, but she is considering joining. With the chamber's help, she was able to locate a new office for her uniform-manufacturing business after soaring rents in Manhattan's Silicon Alley forced her out.
Economic realities make exclusivity foolish, Wong said. "This is a global economy and everyone belongs in that," she said. "You can't cut out a segment of a population. The reality is that white people control the economy."