Bridging the Opportunity Divide

Here’s How Thousands of Low-Income Americans Became Entrepreneurs

June 11, 2014
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Here’s How Thousands of Low-Income Americans Became Entrepreneurs
Emily Blodgett/Neighborhood Development Center
Local and low-income citizens are the target of Neighborhood Development Center.

For some struggling small business owners, success hinges on the ability to acquire a loan or capital to get off the ground.

For minorities, this can be even more a problem since they are more likely to be denied credit, according to the Small Business Administration’s Office of Advocacy.

Fortunately for penny-pinching, aspiring entrepreneurs in Minneapolis, the nonprofit Neighborhood Development Center (NDC) offers training and tools they need to get their own businesses off the ground that ultimately, help revitalize their community.

Founded in 1993, the NDC offers entrepreneurship courses, small-business loans, and real-estate projects with a focus on turning vacant buildings into business incubators, according to the National Journal.

“There is just this huge untapped resource,” said Mihailo Temali, founder and chief executive officer of NDC.

MORE: Detroit’s Small Business Owners Won’t Back Down

The NDC estimates that every new business it supports ultimately generates $100,000 annually for the local economy through rent, property taxes, and business expenses. The group also partners with community organizations, dispatching NDC-trained instructors to teach a 20-week course offered in five different languages. The course costs students between $100 and $600. The small business incubator has trained more than 4,400 people, 84 percent of which are non-white.

Alumni can apply for small business loans after completing the NDC class. The lending team examines the student’s finances and business plan and uses instructors for references. While not all students go on to continue their business plans, NDC’s default rate is a mere 5 percent — in part due to hardworking entrepreneurs but also positive support throughout the entire launch process.

For Haiyen Vang and her husband, Neeson, the NDC is the reason they can boast a chain of six discount clothing stores — The Clearance Rack — and a staff of 26 employees. Ten years ago, the couple received help at age of 22. Neeson worked at Wal-Mart while Haiyen managed a toddler with another baby on the way. With only their GEDs and bad credit, it was unlikely they could launch anything of their own.

But through NDC training, a loan, and a network for support and advice, a decade later the Vangs are planning to nationally franchise their once-small business. The Clearance Rack is one of around 500 NDC-assisted businesses in the Twin Cities area.

“NDC assisted us, but then at the same time, we helped ourselves,” Haiyen said, noting the NDC’s ripple effect of giving back to the community. “It’s just amazing how the cycle just repeats. And it gets bigger and better every time.”

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