What is your occupation and how did you come to work in this field?
Currently, I lead the Resident Business Development Initiatives for the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA), which is the nation’s largest housing authority. Through this role I am able to empower public housing residents to increase their income and assets through entrepreneurship. I could never have predicted that I would be here at this point in my career. After leaving American Express in July 2011 to grow The EIgnite Group, the company I started while working there, my deeper passion, to revitalize economically disadvantaged communities through entrepreneurship, continued to evolve, and led me to approach NYCHA about a potential partnership.
In so doing, I became aware of the Office of Resident Economic Empowerment & Sustainability and the innovative work they were doing to help NYCHA residents increase their income and assets. After several discussions, the decision was made not to move forward with the partnership due to existing capacity constraints. This was followed by an invitation to build out that capacity. After much deliberation and insight from several mentors, I decided to move forward with the process and the rest is history.
What is the biggest challenge of your work?
The number one challenge I face day-to-day is meeting the growing demand for entrepreneurial services with a lack of resources, both human and monetary, to effectively build out the foundational infrastructure necessary to empower resident entrepreneurship. Through an approach that we call the Zone Model, we creatively tap into existing resources and partner with existing institutions to provide direct services to residents. This approach increases NYCHA’s capacity to connect residents to quality programming but only scratching the surface of the overall need. Armed with insight and guidance, resident business owners still face seemingly insurmountable challenges, above and beyond that faced by other New Yorkers.
NYCHA is uniquely positioned to break down some of the barriers and lead the charge in providing a viable pathway to entrepreneurship for residents. By leveraging vacant community space, access to truly low cost incubator and work-spaces, with computer access, can be provided for resident businesses. Additionally, by partnering with financial institutions I envision the creation of a micro angel investment fund or some other type of equity investment option, perhaps hosted on a crowd sourcing platform, that will be used to invest in high-potential resident businesses.
Surely within a population roughly the size of Boston there exists individuals with the fortitude and skill necessary to envision, implement and follow through on ideas that are worthy of micro angel equity investments. It is what I have observed thus far, residents, hungry for an opportunity, who, with a little assistance, go on to open revenue generating companies, including cleaning, pet grooming and janitorial services companies, which encourages me to keep moving forward in spite of the frustration brought on by the resource shortfall. Who knows, maybe someone reading this profile will be moved to assist.
What is your proudest achievement?
By far it was the day I left corporate America to grow my company. It was scary, I thought I was crazy, and I had no guarantees of how things would turn out. However, that didn’t matter. I was doing the creative best I could with my own life. What did matter was that I took a step that if I hadn’t taken it, I would have regretted it my entire life. I still don’t know how the story ends because it is still being written but I can truly say that I have no regrets.
What leaders, thinkers or doers do you admire most?
While I respect and admire many notable leaders, thinkers and doers such as Dr. Ben Carson, Eric Ries, President and Mrs. Obama, and Mayor Bloomberg, those I admire MOST are less well known. They are the individuals that have touched my life personally. They are Joe Abraham, Author of Entrepreneurial DNA, who confirmed what I intuitively knew, that there is no one size fits all approach to entrepreneurship; Marie-Yolaine Eusebe, CEO of Community2Community, who showed me that what impoverished people across the globe need is a hand up, not a hand out; and Chris Burge, author, ministry leader and all-around mentor.
Where do you see yourself in ten years?
Ten years ago if I had answered that question I would not have come close to accurately describing my life in the here and now. So, I'll answer in board terms and leave room for life to happen. Ten years from now I hope to have established a viable pathway to sustainable business ownership for those who are economically disadvantaged, be actively pursuing my artistic desires, and be surrounded by family and friends.
How has your participation on the Leadership Board impacted the way you approach your day-to-day role?
My participation on the Leadership Board coincided with my immersion into the world of entrepreneurship. Through the relationships built, I have gained business clients and a set of trusted advisors. It has provided me with a network of individuals who can be leveraged as sounding boards and thought partners on the projects that I take on. However, most importantly, I would say that my participation has helped me to refine my ask and be more confident when making a pitch.