Small businesses have friends at the Vermont Slauson Economic Development Corporation (VSEDC) and they want to help South L.A. minority-owned companies become successful.
In operation for more than 30 years, VSEDC offers planning, training, access to capital and other tools to aid both start-up ventures and established owners in moving their enterprises to the next level, whether it’s acquiring a building or developing a business plan or opening a second location.
“Whatever stage your business is in, Vermont Slauson can assist you,” said Joseph T. Rouzan III, president and CEO. And he has the statistics to back up his words.
In 2018, VSEDC distributed $5.1 million in small business loans, assisted 310 companies and instructed 529 people attending its various training classes. Through partnerships with the private sector and collaborations with local governments, the nonprofit is poised to significantly increase those numbers.
Another advantage is VSEDC’s certification as a Community Development Financial Institution, noted Rouzan. The designation means that the U.S. Treasury Department recognizes the organization as qualified to provide affordable financial services and loans, from $500 to $500,000, to low-income communities like South L.A.
“As a CDFI, we can receive funds from banking institutions to loan out to local communities and the beauty of it is when we get money from banks, we can distribute funds to our local businesses and are able to underwrite those loans with less rigid conditions,” explained Rouzan.
“Banks are not concerned with job creation, but VSEDC is. Also, banks may not be bothered with people that have a 620 FICO score, but we might still fund the loan. You complete our courses and our training and then we help you prepare a business plan that creates two full-time and two part-time jobs,” he said, who added that as a CDFI, VSEDC can provide loans for considerably less than the commercial market lending rate.
VSEDC also operates the South Los Angeles Business Source Center through a contract with the city that is designed to help L.A. small businesses grow and remain competitive. To take advantage of the program’s resources, an applicant has to either live in Los Angeles or operate a business in the city.
But small business owners in surrounding cities can utilize VSEDC programs, too. Thanks to a new banking partner, the nonprofit can fund entrepreneurs in other parts of L.A. County such as business owners in Compton, Inglewood and Culver City.
In addition, all types of businesses can participate in VSEDC programs. Their registered clients include restaurants, tech firms, mobile retailers, food trucks, graphic designers, beauty salons, automotive shops and shoe repair businesses.
The majority of the business courses are free and many workshops are available in both English and Spanish. The curriculum spans from sessions on Introduction to Entrepreneurship to Business Succession Planning to Tax Preparation and Social Media/Digital Marketing. VSEDC contains a youth entrepreneurship component as well with 110 teenage attendees and 30 young people enrolled in the coding classes.
To further expand opportunities for South L.A. youth, VSEDC will renovate another property the group owns in South L.A. to include a technology center, said Rouzan. The 10,000-square-feet building was acquired years ago by VSEDC’s founder, the late Marva Smith Battle-Bey, and is currently used as a low-rent incubator for new businesses.
“Thanks to Marva’s incredible foresight, we own that property free and clear and the Annenberg Foundation provided a grant to beautify the building with new paint, carpeting and air conditioning,” he said.
“But, I also wanted new computers for the kids, so Annenberg told us about a new grant offered by the Best Buy Foundation. We competed for it and were one of seven finalists and we won the $500,000 grant to bring a technology center to South Los Angeles,” recalled Rouzan.
The facility is now in the final design stage and construction will start this spring. Youth will be able to take classes in robotics, digital photography, animation, virtual reality and building drones. The center will include two sound studios and the Best Buy Foundation will replace all equipment each year.
“We had a booth at the 2019 Taste of Soul called “A Taste of Tech” and we registered nearly 200 kids for our technology center classes,” he said.
Inviting small business owners to consider VSEDC for assistance in 2020, Rouzan insisted, “We want to lend our expertise and even offer financing to help you scale up your business in the new year!”