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“Building Better Neighborhoods One Business at a Time” #SFSBW2016 Interview: Urban Solutions

#SFSBW2016 asked our business resources to share insights, best practices, and examples of how they help small business owners flourish. Today we hear from Urban Solutions.

What is your organizations mission?
Our mission is to strengthen underserved neighborhoods by supporting small businesses, job creation, diversity and sustainability.

What are your organizations recent accomplishments that demonstrate how you have helped the small business community?
Over 20 years, Urban Solutions has built a reputation for being a leader in the economic revitalization of two underserved San Francisco neighborhoods, South of Market and the Western Addition, working in partnership with the City, corporate supporters like the Bank of America Foundation, community leaders, and the neighborhood small business community.

In total, we have assisted more than 6,000 small business clients. We have helped small businesses achieve approximately $20 million in loans and created nearly 700 jobs. Our services revitalize neighborhoods by attracting, retaining and expanding businesses in context with the surrounding neighborhood. For example, as a non-profit real estate company,  over the course of three years, we filled empty storefronts with new businesses in a low income neighborhood in SoMa and cut its vacancy rate from 43% to 11%. More than 80% of our clients start a business one year after receiving services; 88% of our client businesses are still in business two years after receiving services.

Balanced neighborhood growth involves ongoing support from government, financial institutions, property owners, community stakeholders, and both large and small business.

At Urban Solutions, we work at the nexus of these groups and provide a range of services that help small businesses on the road to success: from planning and legal formation to capital access to space location and leasing to ongoing business management and marketing. No other nonprofit in San Francisco provides this range of services or does so with the personal 1:1 attention that our clients appreciate and need.

One of the key competitive differences that Urban Solutions has over other organizations that work in the same economic development space is our in house real estate brokerage services. We have a licensed real estate broker on staff. We can review lease terms, negotiate a small business’ retail lease, help to buy or sell businesses, and act as an agent for the property manager or small business–and don’t charge commission (in select low income neighborhoods).

In addition to those services, we offer:

LEASING AND BROKERING SERVICES: Using our unique vacancy tracking database and years of local experience, we identify retail spaces and facilitate stable lease terms for small business owners in underserved neighborhoods. Building on the successful model of our Legal Office Hours program, we recently launched Leasing Office Hours to provide general lease review, strategy and counseling for small businesses who are facing lease expiry, wish to move or expand, or are looking for their first brick and mortar location.

BUSINESS PLANNING AND FINANCING: We provide technical assistance to small business owners individually and through workshops that focus on access to capital and loan packaging, technology training and business management.

LEGAL OFFICE HOURS: We coordinate with law firms Hanson Bridgett LLP and Legal Services for Entrepreneurs to provide targeted pro bono legal advice for small businesses after assessing their specific needs.

INSURANCE OFFICE HOURS: a new program offering we will be launching in May, 2016 educating clients on insurance needs and pricing.

NEIGHBORHOOD MARKETING/ATTRACTION: To increase activity in this underserved neighborhood, we promote the activities of the Fillmore District from events to small business specials and create opportunities for microenterprises to showcase their products to new customers through the Fillmore Holiday Marketplace.

Launched in 2015 our Bridging the Small Business Tech Divide series is an 8 month program to bring free and low cost technologies to small businesses to increase their revenues, customer base, and efficiencies of conducting their businesses hopefully resulting in increasing their revenue.

What tools and resources has your organization created to help small businesses tap into new opportunities to reach new customers, increase their revenue, and grow their business?FullSizeRender
Our recently launched Bridging the Small Business Tech divide program is an example of a series of workshops that we have curated to assist small businesses tap into new opportunities to reach new customers, increase their revenue and grow their businesses.

While the SF Bay Area is world renowned for its leading technology companies, small businesses, which have generated 65% of net new jobs since 1995, are largely excluded from tech access and usage. The result is a growing divide between tech savvy corporations and small businesses that desperately need to raise revenues and lower costs in order to survive. According to a detailed study by Urban Institute, minority- and women-owned (MWO) small businesses that increase technology use can see a 41% rise in productivity and a 49% gain in profitability. At the same time, while small business generates the highest share of local jobs, income and taxes in LMI neighborhoods (according to the Locally Owned Merchants Association), they are struggling to pay rising rents in San Francisco and other cities. Our goal is to use available tech resources to empower small business, bridge the tech divide and, help save our vibrant neighborhoods.

Bring tech to struggling small businesses, stabilize neighborhoods

  • Targeted Training – Leverage available tech resources to provide targeted training and mentoring on practical business-use technology. Host sessions at national and internationally renowned Impact Hub. The following is a list of training sessions with CONFIRMED providers (volunteer trainers and mentors + free or discounted technology)
  • Point of sale, inventory management – Square
  • Business marketing – Twitter, Yelp
  • Business budget and accounting tools – Quickbooks / Xero
  • Google for small business – Google
  • Compelling websites – Weebly
  • Coaching- Follow each session with structured coaching. We will provide the framework and guidance to ensure value and impact. Use benchmarking to track and report on business impact (see Impact below for details).
  • Audience – Small business owners and entrepreneurs, with focus on participation from LMI neighborhoods. Urban Solutions has 20+ years of experience in SOMA, Central Market, Tenderloin, Fillmore and other LMI communities.

San Francisco has been experiencing quite the transformation. What is your organization doing to attract and support new and younger small business owners? What resources do you offer to entrepreneurs and small businesses to get started?
We work hard to keep our programmatic offering fresh and responsive to the needs of our clients. For example–it became clear that the participants in our Bridging the Small Tech Divide program needed support in their marketing and branding efforts, so we will be offering a three-hour workshop taught by marketing and branding masters, VehicleSF, on Marketing / Branding 101. We also felt that our clients needed help with their business plans so we are offering a 9-week Basic Entrepreneurship course in partnership with Centro Community Partners.

Our small staff is nimble and responsive to the ever changing economic climate that our small and micro-business clients operate in.

San Francisco is known for its diverse culture. How does your organization ensure that the small businesses that make this city unique are able to stay in San Francisco?
Our Enterprising Women! program, now in its 4th year, is a yearlong program targeted at low income female business owners of color.

Women of color and women from low-income backgrounds typically approach business differently from men — from building networks to financial management to selling. For many, operating their business offers them an opportunity to support themselves and their children and grandchildren, to engage community members, and to create a legacy of economic independence.

The training cycle begins in January each year. Topics include assessing business and personal capacity, developing strategic growth and action plans, dealing with the social and emotional aspects of money, building negotiation skills, and acquiring life-work balance.

This year, as a result from a special grant from Wells Fargo, we are incorporating elements of our Bridging the Small Business Tech Divide program into the Enterprising Women! curriculum. They are receiving not only the business skills training, but also how to incorporate free or low cost technologies into their businesses to increase profits, build customers and create greater efficiencies.

After the six-month training, Urban Solutions provides year-round small business technical assistance and mentorship opportunities for the women who participate in the Enterprising Women! training. Social responsibility, mentoring, and professional networks are also essential elements of the Enterprising Women! program.

What words of advice or wisdom would you like to share with small business owners?
At Urban Solutions, we build better neighborhoods one business at a time.

We understand the struggle that small and micro-businesses face every day, and the continually increasing and changing pressures faced by their owners: rising rental costs, rising employee costs, rising health care costs, competition from Big Box stores and internet outlets like Amazon.

We recommend taking a breath, being kind to yourself, acting cooperatively and in partnership when you can, maintaining relationships with people and organizations that can support your work and can support you.

Hear from other small businesses that have used Urban Solutions to tap into new opportunities and grow their businesses.

Tender Loving FoodTender Loving Food
Originally Pesba’s Fish and Chicken, at Eddy and Leavenworth, this restaurant operated for a short time before the owners decided to put it up for sale. William Lue, original owner of Burma Superstar in 1979, saw the opportunity to buy the business and use the space to open a functioning, clean food establishment.

William focuses on training chefs from his home country of Burma. He teaches them the ins and outs of running a successful, clean restaurant establishment then secures a space and develops a concept that will succeed. Once his chefs ‘graduate’ his program, they begin running the restaurant space with their family to ensure stability and employment for them in this country.

As kitchen space is hard to find, especially with today’s sky-high rents, Iris Lee saw this as an opportunity to assist both the seller and the purchaser. During a sale, it is important that both businesses have a fair transaction, and, especially for the purchaser, to ensure a proper lease is in place or negotiate a new one with the landlord. Luckily, in this case, the landlord was happy to secure a new lease with William.

Iris focused on the sale of the business. She ensured that all went smoothly, accounting for the furniture, fixtures and inventory that would be included, as well as confirming there were no outstanding liens or utilities bills that would be assumed by the new owner.

Business Retention, Continued
The Pesba’s Fish and Chicken place was not nearly clean or functional enough for William to immediately open. There were vermin living in the space, the hood hadn’t been cleaned bi-annually as required, as well as rotting garbage that had been left by the previous owners.

However, after Urban Solutions facilitated the sale, William had the place cleaned and fixed up to have a soft opening within one week of purchasing the business.

William will first open as a to-go and delivery of pan-Asian Burmese food, with plans to add seating for dine-in customers enjoy the simple, clean warm environment of Tender Loving Food.

Within its first year of operation, Montesacro Pinseria has already been named as one of Zagat’s Top Ten Most Important Bay Area Restaurants of 2015. This is an example of a small business owner with a profound and committed vision to bring his style of pizza – The Pinsa – to San Francisco and to America.

Gianluca Legrottaglie’s story is classic – an immigrant who comes to this country to make a better life for himself, his family and to contribute to the community. He understood and believed in the potential of the 6th Street neighborhood and how much value he could bring so that the entire neighborhood could benefit.

As an accomplished operator for the existing 54 Mint, Urban Solutions staff knew we were working with someone who had the persistence and resilience to leverage a tough opportunity.

Gianluca made a significant capital investment of his own to make drastic renovations to the raw space that revealed itself to be a hidden gem when its vintage features were uncovered through demolition!

In addition, our staff helped him with landlord negotiations, getting a loan, and navigating the City’s SF Shines program that provides assistance to small businesses for tenant improvements. In a short time, many of the negative activities (drug dealing,etc) have disappeared from Montesacro’s corner of Stevenson Alley and been replaced with happy, satisfied diners!

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