Westfield Garden State Plaza, in conjunction with the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) at Ramapo College, recently launched the USAfrica Small Business Program. Designed as a launchpad for underserved minority businesses, predominantly those that are African American-owned or owned by Africans of the Diasporas, as well as those in Africa, the program aims to get African-made products into the hands of mainstream retail customers. The USAfrica retail incubation space formally opened in the mall on April 6 and serves as a retail hub where shoppers can support aspiring entrepreneurs. The program was created by the USAfrica Trade and Business Network, Inc., a 501c3 non-profit, to provide a low-risk/high-support environment with wrap-around services to close the opportunity gap for underserved and minority-owned businesses.
The USAfrica Small Business Program is an expansion of the mall’s small business initiative with SBDC that began last year and is focused on giving small, locally owned businesses, especially minority- and women-owned businesses, the opportunity to showcase their goods and services alongside America’s most recognized brands.
“By offering USAfrica a special 3-month lease vs. the longer term leases generally required, we’re raising awareness for minority small business owners while simultaneously offering our clientele the ability to purchase distinctive merchandise not typically available in a mall setting,” says Chris Neidhardt, director of leasing for Westfield Garden State Plaza. “As a major shopping destination in the tri-state area, Westfield Garden State Plaza is continuously working to alleviate hurdles for local and minority owned businesses while offering access to unrivaled customer foot traffic.”
“I am thrilled to see the USAfrica kiosk materialize at Westfield Garden State Plaza with hopes that in the future, the initiative will become self-sustaining and one that can support day-to-day operating expenses on its own,” said Gbenga Omotayo, the founder of USAfrica Trade and Business Network. “We are grateful to Westfield Garden State Plaza and SBDC for their support in helping to elevate and support African and Afrodiasporan MSMEs (micro, small and medium enterprises) and are open to welcoming retail and wholesale buyers of these distinct natural and organic products.” He is also the founder of Pacetas Agency, a separate entity from the USAfrica Trade and Business Network, but one of its major funding sources.
“Launching a business in a physical space can be a completely new experience for an emerging brand,” said Vincent Vicari, regional director of SBDC at Ramapo College. “By launching the USAfrica incubation program we’re eliminating the traditional barriers to entry typically faced by small business owners such as commercial rents and assorted start-up costs which can be prohibitive. With Westfield Garden State Plaza serving more than 18 million visitors a year, the program offers start-ups an opportunity of a lifetime.”
Having a physical space from which to conduct business is a key component of the program with support services provided by Pacetas Agency, a full-service advertising, marketing and event production company servicing small businesses and global brands looking to target Africa niche markets within and outside of the United States. Omotayo is the founder of Pacetas.
Their support services include:
The USAfrica product categories include commodities, agribusiness, consumer packaged goods, arts and crafts, textiles and apparel, and beauty products.
“I’m excited for our customers to explore the USAfrica kiosk,” said Tiffany Ramirez, marketing manager at Westfield Garden State Plaza. “The assortment of products is unique to our current offerings and will delight shoppers with an exciting array of merchandise. In addition, as a small business launchpad, the program offers an opportunity for shoppers to meet crafters and creators first-hand and learn about their passion for success in the business world.”
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