Launching dreams: Nguyen's bringing the biz to small business
When Toan Nguyen first conceived of a local microlending program similar to ones that have been successful in developing countries, people scoffed.
"They said $5,000 is too little to start a business in this country," says Nguyen, who proved the naysayers wrong when he launched the non-profit Community Investment Collaborative in December 2011. The program starts with a 16-week class in which participants create a business plan, followed by graduated loans starting at $5,000 and progressing up to $35,000 for those whose plans are approved. It's yielded "phenomenal success" as several members of the first class are already in business, says Nguyen, who now has a new venture– Cville Central– aimed at keeping small businesses afloat.
"Cville Central is a hub– we'll go out and get the jobs from the community from large institutions like UVA and then sub it out to small businesses," Nguyen explains.
Nguyen is well suited to understand the challenges of small business owners. Vietnamese born and a graduate of Darden, he also started C'ville Coffee in the Allied Business Park thirteen years ago.
"I've been in both worlds– I have a degree from Darden, so I understand the large corporation structure and how it does business, and I'm a small business owner and a minority. I'm in touch."
One of the challenges for small business owners is securing the work, he says, but other challenges come after the work is complete including collecting money for jobs– something that can take more than a month.
"They don't have that ability to wait 40 days," says Nguyen of the small businesses he aims to assist. Cville Central– which is a for-profit business– will act as a middleman of sorts. After securing the job for the subcontractor, it will pay the bill within seven days, taking a 10 percent fee to cover its overhead.
"It's our job to chase the money down," he says.
Cville Central officially launches April 8 with an information session at the Albemarle County office building, and Nguyen says the reception from government leaders has been warm, in part, Nguyen believes, because Cville Central solves a challenge for local governments.
"Any locality that touches HUD money has to spend 25 percent of that money on giving contracts to small businesses," says Nguyen, who says City and County leaders will speak at the information session. He also notes that while Cville Central has as its mission helping minority and women-owned businesses, any small business– one that does $10 million or less in revenue each year– is eligible to sign up
Nguyen's own small business is going strong with musical performances, plays and, of course, coffee, and Nguyen says he hopes his new idea to boost small business will inspire others to innovate.
"Stretch your comfort zone and be in spaces where you normally wouldn't be– that's how innovation works," he says. "Combining seemingly totally different ideas and people, you come up with ideas that you might not otherwise have had."