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Kean University Launches Learning Labs to Help Small Businesses Grow

The New Jersey Small Business Development Center (SBDC) at Kean University recently held the first in a series of learning labs offering hands-on support to small business owners as they navigate state certification processes and other opportunities to develop their businesses.

The first learning lab walked about a dozen small business owners and entrepreneurs through the New Jersey small business certification application as well as the applications to be certified as a minority-owned, woman-owned, veteran-owned and disabled veteran-owned business.

“As New Jersey’s urban research university, Kean University is committed to supporting underserved communities,” said Kean President Lamont O. Repollet, Ed.D. “Our experts at SBDC and across the university are invaluable resources for the state’s entrepreneurs. We look forward to hosting many other programs aimed at helping small businesses succeed.”

Rafael Mata, regional director of the New Jersey SBDC at Kean, promised more learning labs in the future, addressing 15 different business issues, such as procurement, that can be challenges for businesses in their early stages.

“We are going to get you on the fast track to certification,” Mata told attendees at the first learning lab. “Kean University is about getting things done and helping small businesses accomplish small things and then stacking those small things into larger things.”

The Kean SBDC has existed for 45 years and is one of 11 centers throughout New Jersey. It covers Union and Somerset counties but can serve businesses throughout the state.

On hand for the launch of the learning labs series were small business consultant Jinni Rock-Bailey of Rock-Bailey Enterprises; Luis O. De La Hoz, chairman of the Statewide Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of New Jersey; and two state officials — John Cronin, a state certification auditor, and Donald Newman, manager of small business advocacy in the Department of State.

“The first reason to be certified is to get work,” Cronin said, explaining that the state and local governments have set-asides to contract with businesses owned by minorities, women and veterans.

Newman called government procurement a “huge market,” but said private companies also follow their own “supplier diversity” guidelines.

“They want to be good corporate citizens and use businesses that hold some of these certifications, and that can help you,” he said.

De La Hoz urged the participants to stay focused on finding opportunities to develop their businesses.

“I believe that if you participate in this and other activities, and if you take the time to develop the relationships with people, not only from government agencies but also from corporations, you will be able to grow,” he said.

Rock-Bailey reminded the business owners to network.

“That’s really the next stage, and a lot of the networking is about procurement and how you can increase your revenue,” she said.

The small business owners were grateful for the advice and follow-through from the SBDC.

Ashley Tufuga, a Navy veteran who graduated from Kean with a marketing degree in May 2022, started a personal career consultancy, Legacy Business Solutions LLC in Scotch Plains. Through the SBDC, she already received her small business certification and is awaiting certifications for a woman-owned, veteran-owned, and minority-owned business.

“The process is intricate, but the SBDC made it very, very easy to navigate,” she said. “They provided me with everything you need to go ahead and get it done.”

Keith Patterson has two disparate businesses in Union, Next Move Financial Network, a financial services company, and Idle Mind Shop, a woodworking business. He is seeking his certifications as a small business, and a veteran-owned, minority-owned and disabled veteran-owned business.

“I didn’t know so much was involved in getting the certifications and how much the certs will provide you,” he said. “It definitely helped to have people from the state who can explain it in detail, right here, and to ask us, ‘What are your plans for your businesses once you have the certifications?’”

For more information about the learning labs series, visit the Kean SBDC website.

To access more business news, visit NJB News Now.

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