Los Angeles

USC program creates entrepreneurial leaders in L.A. community

Bridges to Business Success Program mentors small business owners disproportionately affected during the pandemic.

The Los Angeles business community has faced financial hardships since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. USC’s Bridges to Business Success Program is addressing these economic insecurities by teaching L.A.-based entrepreneurs disproportionately affected by the pandemic the skills needed to help their businesses recover.

The program largely focuses on businesses run by veterans, women and other marginalized groups. It covers timely topics as struggles typically faced by business owners from marginalized groups, such as acquiring loans, funding and other resources, were made harder by the pandemic.

A 2021 H&R Block study of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on small businesses found that 53% of Black business owners in the U.S. saw their revenues cut in half compared with 37% of white business owners.

In addition to decreased revenue, the Brookings Institution used data from the 2018 Small Business Credit Survey to discover that large banks approve about three in five loans sought by white business owners compared with half of those sought by Hispanic or Latinx owners and less than 30% of those sought by Black small business owners.

These are just some of the factors working against business owners in marginalized communities during times of increased economic hardship.

“As a result of the pandemic, a lot of business owners, especially minority business owners, weren’t able to get some of the access to capital in order to sustain their businesses, to get them through this critical time that we were living in,” said Vikita Poindexter, head of business insurance for the program. “These programs provided those resources.”

The Bridges to Business Success Program supports essential businesses that serve the L.A. community by offering one-on-one coaching and training workshops to improve owners’ entrepreneurial skills and help them grow their businesses.

Founded in 2011, the program started off as an initiative designed to help small businesses in the construction industry develop their business and make more connections, said Rocio Flores, the program administrator for USC Civic Engagement and Economic Partnerships.

Coaches, including entrepreneurs, business-owners and university instructors, train a cohort of entrepreneurs during a 10-week program. The instruction includes specialized training by 12 distinguished business professionals who help participants improve their presentation skills and pitch deliveries. They also share important knowledge and tools necessary for business growth and expansion.

“My role is two-fold here,” said Liz Garcia, a leadership coach for the program. “I do individual coaching that is based upon each individual’s needs, and I also give one, three-hour training for each cohort where I go through all of the topics and help them understand what it means to build effective relationships with their employees.”

The tailored assistance provided to all members of the cohort allows the entrepreneurs to create strategic business plans based on their individual needs.

“USC provides an opportunity for business owners to really get that mentorship and that coaching that they need in order to start a business, grow their businesses and bring the businesses to the next level,” said Flores.

Participants also foster relationships with other entrepreneurs during the program, so they can learn from one another and establish a network of support and empowerment.

“A big part of what the participants receive in this program is a community,” Garcia said. “This is such a big part of helping people. Bridges has helped other entrepreneurs get through the pandemic and stay afloat, showing that they can make it through.”

Celina Estrada, a business owner in L.A., joined the 2021 Cohort to help grow her business Cereus Bloom Life Coaching. Estrada knew she wanted to support youth through developing solutions and actions to improve their lives in L.A., but needed help deciding what insurance to use for liability reasons and marketing her business to be more appealing to schools.

“I really enjoyed the coaching they offered,” Estrada said. “I also liked the networking and all the local resources. That really helped a lot.”

Estrada said she also learned necessary financial skills to support her business. She is hoping to have a contract to work with schools by the end of the year, and would like to give back to Bridges to Business and the wider USC community by working with the program one day.

“I really felt like [the program] created a community of people that are in the same boat, that are trying to do good but might have some setbacks,” Estrada said. “We just have this goal and this vision that we want to execute and so we’re helping each other out.”