Q&A: Jane Schulman

LaGuardia and Goldman Sachs Pioneer New Initiative

Jane Schulman, vice president of LaGuardia’s Division of Adult and
Continuing Education

The Small Business Development Center at LaGuardia Community College will be the first partner of the Goldman Sachs Group Inc. in a new $500 million initiative aimed at unlocking the growth and job creation potential of 10,000 small businesses across America. CUNY Matters recently spoke with Jane Schulman, vice president of LaGuardia’s Division of Adult and Continuing Education, which oversees the center.

Q: LaGuardia’s Small Business Development Center was started in October 2001 to help businesses affected by 9/11. What impact has it had on the local economy?

VICE PRESIDENT SCHULMAN: We've helped thousands of startup and small businesses via one-on-one counseling and large group seminars. We’ve also helped them gain access to about $25 million over the past decade while helping them develop or maintain approximately 100 jobs.

Q: Where would these small business owners go if the center didn’t exist?

A: While there are a few other small business development centers, they wouldn’t have had the kind of access that we offer. LaGuardia’s center is a constant presence that has been extraordinarily helpful to small businesses in our community.

Q: How will Goldman Sachs’ new 10,000 Small Businesses Initiative work, and who can benefit?

A: The model [will] reach out to existing small businesses throughout the country in terms of what they need to grow. For example, they need access to capital; an understanding of business plans; and an understanding of their market as well as new markets. This program will provide them with an on-the-ground curriculum that speaks to their needs in these areas.

Q: How will the money be used?

A: Approximately $300 million will go for capital investments so small businesses will have access to capital through Community Development Investment Funds. Some $200 million will be for an education component. We’re very proud that LaGuardia is the first community college where this program is being implemented. Eventually, some 20 community colleges across the nation are expected to be involved.

Q: Why are community colleges a good place to invest this way?

A: Because we understand the real-world situations facing local businesses and are positioned to devise real-world solutions.

Q: With the economy in crisis and joblessness at 10 percent, what are the biggest barriers to small businesses?

A: Lending institutions are not lending money, and small businesses need capital just to keep going, much less to grow and expand. In addition, small businesses need to think differently in this economy, because business plans that worked in the past may not be successful now, and that’s an area where we can be very helpful.

Q: Is there a type of a small business that thrives in an economy that’s not thriving?

A: Yes. For example, we’ve been working with a daycare center on a business plan, and we also helped them get access to capital. This allowed them to grow. We’ve also worked with a mechanic who wanted to open a service station. While he had some capital, we were able to help him put it in the right place by helping him understand marketing and how to identify prospective clientele.

Q: What advice would you give someone who wants to start a business in any economy?

A: Think it through carefully, and seek expert help. Even though you have a good idea and are good at what you’re planning to do, you must understand many other aspects to have a successful business. Our curriculum will help small business owners understand management, understand fiscal issues and understand other things that they may not have had formal training in.

Q: The Small Business Development Center has been praised for addressing the needs of the local immigrant population. Will this be part of the new initiative?

A: Absolutely! At LaGuardia we are tuned in to the immigrant community. We can offer them help to understand the culture of running a business in the U.S. and how that may be different from the culture they’re familiar with.

Q: As the center nears its 10th anniversary, what are your future plans?

A: To extend our outreach, and the Goldman Sachs initiative will help us do so. For example, we’re planning an interactive website to enable small businesses to access resources without having to visit the campus. We are also working to develop curricula, both credit and noncredit, in order to expand our offerings and help entrepreneurs understand how to develop and grow small businesses.