Bronx Business Bridge: New Initiative at Lehman College to Support Low-Income and Unemployed Entrepreneurs

June 5, 2014 | Lehman College

Bronx Business Bridge Will Connect New Yorkers with Work Space, Equipment and Capital, Creating New Economic Opportunities

Lehman College and the New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) have announced the launch of the Bronx Business Bridge, a pilot program to help low- to mid-skill residents of New York City start or expand their own businesses.

Through the Bronx Business Bridge, Lehman College’s School of Continuing and Professional Studies will administer business support programming, a loan program and affordable incubator work space for low-income entrepreneurs. It is part of New York City’s and Lehman College’s ongoing effort to grow economic opportunities and stimulate economic activity in the Bronx.

The Bronx Business Bridge, which will receive approximately $600,000 from the City’s Human Resources Administration (HRA) and the Center for Economic Opportunity, is one in a suite of inter-agency initiatives designed to alleviate key obstacles to economic mobility by connecting low-income New Yorkers with opportunities in the city’s knowledge economy, strengthening skills, and fostering business activity to provide employment opportunities for those with less formal training.

Build-out of the Bronx Business Bridge will repurpose existing Lehman College space located on the Grand Concourse and is expected to be completed by July 2014. The first entrepreneurs are expected to be accepted by late June.

“Lehman’s robust business education and other programs combine hands-on help and skills training,” says Ricardo R. Fernández, President of Lehman College. “This approach will put the Bronx Business Bridge at the forefront of small business assistance, ensuring that participants see it not just as affordable co-working space, but also as a place where they can truly develop and nurture their ideas and their dreams, lifting up our community in the process.”

Located near the Bronx Business Bridge in the northwest Bronx, Lehman College enrolls more than 12,000 undergraduate and graduate students, studying business, health care, education, liberal arts, and engaging in groundbreaking scientific research. The School of Continuing and Professional Studies serves another 15,000 students through professional and certificate programs.

Many low-income entrepreneurs in New York City seek to start their own businesses, but face key barriers to the development and implementation of a business plan including lack of access to affordable start-up office space, limited knowledge of strategic and operational business skills, lack of connections to existing business networks, the inability to secure loans from traditional financial institutions, lack of personal capital for initial business investment, and limited access to local anchor institutions that have a large demand for new businesses, products, and services. The Bronx Business Bridge aims to help entrepreneurs overcome these barriers by providing key services and resources for entrepreneurs in under-served communities, including:

Incubator space: An accessible, affordable work space in the Bronx that will include crucial business facilities such as phones, reception services, conference rooms, Internet connection, and more.

Business support: Technical business programming designed to address critical skills and knowledge gaps by providing one-on-one strategic and operational business counseling, accounting and legal support services, and mentorship and networking opportunities.

Loan program: Early-stage capital, administered by New York Business Development Corporation, to fund a business through a tailored loan program for eligible program participants.

Connection to demand: Introductions to local anchor institutions that have a demand for particular services or goods that new businesses in the Bronx Business Bridge can provide.

The Bronx Business Bridge is targeted to start-ups, small businesses, organizations from various sectors seeking support, capital and/or office space, and freelancers. Applicants will go through an intensive process to join the program, and participants will be chosen based on the financial viability of the submitted business plan, long-term business growth potential, residency in low-income neighborhoods of the City, and ability to meet business demand from local anchor institutions. Participants will be accepted into and enrolled in the Program for a one-year period on a rolling basis.

“HRA is honored to be a partner in EDC’s LIFT Entrepreneurship program, which gives important opportunities to help creative and enterprising New Yorkers,” said HRA Commissioner Steven Banks. “It is especially critical that we help strengthen communities that have high poverty and high unemployment rates. Through this program, low-income entrepreneurs will receive the tools they need to create and grow thriving businesses, which both serve and employ local residents.”

The Bronx Business Bridge also represents a milestone in achieving the goals of NYCEDC’s Webster Avenue Vision Plan, which set forth goals and recommendations to transform Webster Avenue in the Bronx into a vibrant mixed-use district that serves the residential, commercial, cultural and academic needs of the diverse neighborhoods and anchor institutions that surround it.  The Webster Avenue Plan called for the establishment of a business incubator and low-interest loan fund to help local residents successfully launch businesses that serve retail and institutional needs and create jobs, a goal met by the Bronx Business Bridge.