Long Island City, NY–Jessenia Velazquez, the founder and CEO of Jessie’s CleanSweep, Inc., a green, full service janitorial small business located in Baldwin, Long Island, was stuck in the day-to-day operations of running a small business and felt she was at a standstill.
With $600,000 in revenue in 2011 and a staff of two full-time and six part-time, Ms. Velazquez, 33, said her 12-year-old business was not doing poorly, but she wanted to kick it into the next gear.
“It reminded me of ‘How Stella Got Her Groove Back,’ she said with a laugh, referring to the 1998 movie about a successful stockbroker who strives to balance her business and personal life. “I felt stagnant, and I had to do something.”
So, upon the recommendation of a Small Business Administration representative, she applied and was accepted to Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses at LaGuardia Community College in Long Island City, a free100-hour business education program that has already helped hundreds of local small business owners, of which an estimated 30 were Hispanic entrepreneurs, grow their companies and hire new employees.
“I am ecstatic that I did it,” said Ms. Velazquez, who graduated from the program this past June. “I came away with a wealth of knowledge, and even before graduating from the program I was reaping benefits.”
The main benefit was a three-year, $2.2 million contract from the U.S. Department of Defense to provide cleaning services at Ft. Hamilton Army Base in Brooklyn. “By the time I completed 10,000 Small Businesses my revenue had doubled to $1.2 million,” she said.
How did 10,000 Small Businesses help Ms. Velazquez get her groove back?
The entrepreneur, who started her cleaning business when she was 17 years old and incorporated it in 2000, noted that one of the most valuable tools that she came away with was a comprehensive business growth plan, which each scholar had to create. “A problem with a lot of entrepreneurs is that they know how to do business, but they don’t know how to get their thoughts on paper,” she said. “They say, ‘I got it in my head,’ but until you have a written plan, that big picture, you are not going to do anything.”
“Like my colleagues,” she added, “I had all the things I wanted to do in my head, but I did not have a plan, and that is what I needed. I needed a road to go down, and the program gave me that road.”
The team of LaGuardia professors, Goldman Sachs mentors and business experts showed her how to improve her negotiations skills, hire better-qualified employees and fire those who were not helping the company.
Her instructors also encouraged her to focus on just one goal, which she decided would be federal and out-of-state contracts, and gave her the confidence she needed to compete against much larger service providers. “The Defense Department almost didn’t accept my proposal because they thought we were too small and not qualified, but I said, ‘no,’ and presented them with references and spelled out what we have done and what we would do for them.”
With the new contract, the company hired four new employees, all U.S. veterans, through the “Hire our Heroes” initiative. “Participating in the veterans program was another move 10,000 Small Businesses helped me to do,” said Ms. Velazquez, whose company currently has a total of 11 employees. “I had the application on my desk for months, but the program motivated me to take action. And now that I was awarded this contract I am not going to hire anyone but veterans.”
Upon the advice of her instructors, Ms. Velazquez has also become an active member of the business and local communities, joining the Baldwin Chamber of Commerce, the United States Chamber of Commerce and the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. She is also a volunteer fire fighter for the Baldwin Fire Department.
With the Department of Defense job secured since this past March, Ms. Velazquez is patiently waiting for word on four federal proposals for contracts in Washington, D.C., Pennsylvania and Texas.
And though she is focusing on federal and out-of-state contracts, her e-mail address indicates that she is setting her sights even higher: Jessie@cleansweepglobal.com
“I say ‘global’ because one day…,” said Ms. Velazquez with a smile. “And I can say it because of 10,000 Small Businesses. I tell all the small business owners I know, ‘it will change your life; change your business and change your whole view on how to run a small business.’ ”
To learn more about the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses initiative at LaGuardia Community College, please:
• Visit www.laguardia.edu/10ksb
• Call our team at (718) 730-7400 or
• Email 10KSB@lagcc.cuny.edu
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Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses is an initiative to unlock the growth and job creation potential of 10,000 small businesses across the United States through greater access to business education, financial capital, and business support services. The program operates through a national network of public and private partner organizations including community colleges, business schools and Community Development Financial Institutions. The initiative is currently active in New York, Chicago, Cleveland, Houston, Long Beach, Los Angeles, New Orleans, and Salt Lake City and will continue to expand to communities across the country. Community partners in New York City include The City of New York, LaGuardia Community College and Seedco Financial Services.
LaGuardia Community College located in Long Island City, Queens, was founded in 1971 as a bold experiment in opening the doors of higher education to all, and we proudly carry forward that legacy today. LaGuardia educates students through over 50 degree, certificate and continuing education programs, providing an inspiring place for students to achieve their dreams. Upon graduation, LaGuardia students’ lives are transformed as family income increases 17%, and students transfer to four-year colleges at three times the national average. Part of the City University of New York (CUNY), LaGuardia is a nationally recognized leader among community colleges for boundary-breaking success educating underserved students. At LaGuardia we imagine new ideas, create new curriculum and pioneer programs to make our community and our country stronger. Visit www.laguardia.edu to learn more.