REDC Provides Small Businesses Support With a Personal Touch

Asian Americans for Equality (AAFE), our parent organization, recently featured this REDC success story in its 2018 Annual Report

Whether you are a seasoned pro or a new entrepreneur, starting a small business is hard. Expanding a business, building a successful and sustainable independent venture, is even more difficult. Luckily, Chi-Sum Ngai and Kaleena Teoh were able to rely on REDC for financial, technical and moral support.

When they first came to see us, Coffee Project NY, their startup, was already operating out of a 300 square foot space in Manhattan’s East Village. Ngai and Teoh had left their office jobs  behind to pursue their passion project — a friendly community-centered cafe featuring inventive specialty coffee drinks. While the shop was a big hit, in part due to the Coffee Project’s much-talked about “deconstructed latte” flight (served in three glasses), they realized the business had to expand.  

Recognizing a need for more opportunities for employees, the partners decided to open a second location in Brooklyn. “We wanted to grow with the people who were helping us to build the business,” explained Ngai. Ngai and Teoh say it’s not easy as first time entrepreneurs. They have contended with high rents, unscrupulous contractors and numerous construction headaches, all of which led to cost overruns. But the new spot, a large loft-like space in the downtown Brooklyn area, was  bustling just a few months after opening. The business now has a staff of 12.

One of our main objectives is to help small business owners make inroads with mainstream financial institutions. REDC provided q $50,000 loan, 13 hours of business counseling and assistance in obtaining status as a Minority- or Women-owned Business Enterprise (MWBE). Later Ngai and Teoh were approved for a conventional bank loan. Now the partners have even bigger plans. They’re opening a “coffee campus” a school sanctioned by the Specialty Coffee Association, the only facility of its kind in New York State, which will provide additional employment opportunities. Recently, they secured a new space in Long Island City, Queens.

Unlike large corporate lenders, said Ngai, REDC takes the time to engage with business owners and understand their individual needs. “With Renaissance,” she said, “the difference is that they put a touch of humanity in the relationship… I feel they genuinely care about my business.”  She added, “I’m very grateful. Without REDC’s first loan to help us start up, the coffee shop would not have happened.”

To read AAFE’s full Annual Report, click here.

Photo: REDC clients Chi-Sum Ngai and Kaleena Teoh (middle) with small business counselors Susan Tam (left) and May Gee (right).