Advice from the Pros

May 18, 2010

The New York Daily News has a business section called “Your Money” in which financial consultants and business owners give advice about the ups and downs of starting, expanding, leaving or creating a business in today’s economy.

Since BMCC offers a variety of business courses for students at all career levels, it was the perfect place for the Daily News to host its fourth annual Small Biz Big Impact conference. The event was co-sponsored by NewTek, BMCC and CUNY, and held in Theatre I.

The theatre was packed with a crowd of budding entrepreneurs seeking professional advice from industry experts, some of whom are featured in the “Your Money” column.
Scott Wenger, Assistant Managing Editor/Money and Business for the Daily News moderated the panel discussions. Panelists were divided into three groups, eager to talk about starting or maintaining a business in today’s economy.

The general consensus of the panelists was not to give up so easily. Despite a rough stock market and high unemployment, there are indeed business opportunities out there. BMCC and CUNY can help small businesses

CUNY operates Small Business Development Centers at six CUNY colleges, and Jay Hershenson, Senior Vice Chancellor for University Relations and Secretary of the Board of Trustees, spoke about them at the conference.

After praising BMCC by calling President Antonio Pérez, “one of the greatest community college presidents of our nation,” Hershenson went on to say that Small Business Development Centers help students create a business plan, a marketing plan, find start-up capital, and more.

Hershenson also said that the CUNY system is a “first choice” for hundreds of people looking for higher education, as evidenced by the large applicant pool for the upcoming fall semester.

 “BMCC has a myriad of programs that dwarfs other community colleges in the U.S.” said Hershenson, who encouraged the Daily News panelists to consider educating some of their employees through a degree-granting or non-degree granting CUNY business program.

Panelists provide advice

Panel 1 was called Getting To the Bucks, Panel 2 was Making the Most of Technology and Panel 3 was Preparing for the Turnaround.

 “Today, you’ll hear about the successes and stumbles of several New York City small businesses,” said Wenger, before moderating Panel 1.

Panelist Pravina Raghavan, New York District Director of the U.S. Small Business Administration, advised entrepreneurs to not feel overwhelmed by all the ‘agencies’ out there.

“There are so many organizations out there on the city, state and federal level that are all trying to help you start your business,” she said. “Find a place closest to you and talk with a counselor. If you don’t click with that counselor, go talk to someone else. There are many services out there that provide free expert advice.”

Panelist David Rose, Venture Capitalist and chairman of Rose Tech Ventures and New York Angels, said that while starting a business is indeed risky, “the higher you reach, the tougher it is to make it.”

He advised the audience to be realistic about their career goals and understand the various types of financing available. “Know the differences between grants, loans and equity investments,” he said.

Business plans show promise

Panelist Don Dimartini, Vice President of New York Business Development Corp., talked about the importance a business plan. “A business plan is a living document and you’ll modify it many times,” he said. “It’s the document you need to run the business and show others that you know where you’re [financially] going.”

Dimartini said all entrepreneurs must be willing to show their tax information to banks and lenders.

Jennifer Wright is the Co-Founder of Environmentally Conscious Organization, which created an eco-friendly pizza box that can be folded into plates or a container. Also a panelist, she advised the audience to make sure their business plan outlines their target audience. “Attend business competitions, and get to know your competitors,” she said. “I view them as an opportunity to get my product out there and get critiques.”

Wright believes one of the keys to her company’s success is that her boxes hit a niche market. “It’s a green product made from recycled materials. Restaurants have been coming to us looking for a greener option for their pizza boxes.”

The majority of panelists agreed that budding entrepreneurs should have a “kitchen cabinet” full of experts and people they can trust, who will provide them with the business feedback they need to succeed.

Utilize Technology

Panelist Jay Greenstein, President and head of online operations at retail chain R.A.G. New York, stressed the importance of search engine optimization. When R.A.G. first launched its online store, the Web site only received a few hits per day—three, if they were lucky.

With help from a search engine optimization team, Greenstein was able to get his online store to appear on the front search page of Google, towards the top of the Web page. “Now, we have about 600 visitors to the R.A.G. site, per day,” he said.

According to Greenstein, his team focused on the specific search keywords that would draw traffic to his company’s Web site. “Our site comes up first when you type the words ‘Linen Blazers,’ into Google—and they’re our best-selling item.”

Panelist Rasu Jilani is a social marketing expert and co-founder of Coup D’etat lifestyle clothing company. Jilani says he uses Twitter and Facebook to keep customers informed about company news. “Use the technology that out there already to benefit your service,” he said. “I pretty much run my entire business from my cell phone.”


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  • The Daily News returns to BMCC for another business seminar.
  • Panelists gave advice on taxes, technology, taking risks and more.
  • Even in today’s economy, there’s room for new business.

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