New Education Center for LaGuardia’s ‘Mini MBA’ Program

Grant of $5M From Gov. Cuomo’s CUNY 2020 Funds the Project

LaGuardia’s ‘Mini MBA’ Program

At ribbon-cutting ceremony for LaGuardia center, from left, Roy Castro, CEO of D.M. Ice Cream Corp., and 10,000 Small Businesses alumnus; Goldman Sachs Chairman Lloyd Blankfein; LaGuardia President Gail O. Mellow; President and CEO of Empire State Development and Commissioner of the NYS Depart. of Economic Development Howard Zemsky; and LaGuardia Vice President of Administration and Finance Shahir Erfan.

LaGuardia Community College’s trailblazing small-business program is often described as the “mini MBA,” of continuing education. Known officially as the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses initiative, it teaches entrepreneurial skills to local small- business owners.

A new, dedicated education center – a facility reflective of its growth and achievements – recently opened at the LaGuardia to serve the program. It has seven meeting rooms, a business center and offices.

A $5 million grant from New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo that funded the center was part of Cuomo’s CUNY 2020, which allocated $55 million for eight projects on 20 of the University’s campuses. Projects were selected for the potential to spark local workforce development and entrepreneurship and to create new jobs.

The LaGuardia initiative all began with “a cold call.” Back in 2010, Lloyd Blankfein, then CEO of Goldman Sachs, called LaGuardia President Gail Mellow to ask if she would be interested in such an endeavor. She immediately said yes, and the rest is both local and national business history.

The LaGuardia program has helped more than 830 business owners create jobs, negotiate contracts and secure more than 130 loans totaling about $20 million. Eligible participants attend 11 training sessions and receive individual advisement, all free of charges. There is also support for participants who are new immigrants learning English.

Based on the success at LaGuardia, Goldman Sachs expanded the program and it has served nearly 8,000 small businesses nationwide.

“This program is now at community colleges throughout the country,” Mellow said, at the ribbon-cutting ceremony in December. She spoke about the strong public-private partnership that made this program possible, and about the importance of supporting small businesses, which add “character to neighborhoods, enable people to shop local and provide job opportunities.”

Graduates of the program describe how much it taught them about business, and about the networking opportunities it provided with more experienced professionals – and with one another.

Conference room in the new center at LaGuardia

Conference room in the new center at LaGuardia

Entrance center in the new center at LaGuardia

Entrance center in the new center at LaGuardia

In 2013, Mary Molina participated in the program as a member of the all-female “Tory Burch Cohort.” She sells “Lola Bars,” an energy product. Molina says that the program convinced her to think of her brand as national rather than local and taught her to build financial models.

“Our sales went from $60,000 when I entered the program to $680,000 now,” she says.

Rechelle Balanzat, who owns Juliette, a dry-cleaning and laundry business with an app that enables her to serve all of Manhattan, was another participant. Included among her clients are well-known artists and celebrities. Another participant, John Rafferty, is a former NYPD lieutenant who now owns WATCH GUARD 24/7, a security company.

Roy Castro is perhaps the best known of the participants. The story of how he turned his life around after his release from prison has been the subject of many glowing media reports. He started by cleaning out freezers and ultimately become the CEO of D.M. Ice Cream Corp., the largest subdistributor of its kind in the city. Nevertheless, Castro says he needed the kind of help the small-business program offered, since he had no formal education.

At the ribbon-cutting, Castro addressed other students: “You guys are my business partners, you guys are my collaborators, you guys are my networking, you guys are my lifelong friends who I turn to when I need advice, from the smallest accounting situation to any part of business.”