University of Southern California


Working with our neighbors to build a strong community

Opening a business … and staying in business

August 29, 2014

By attending a USC forum, local owners acquire the tools to expand their operations

Opening a business is tough. Sustaining its success can be just as challenging.

Over the last eight weeks, representatives from the area near the university took part in the USC Popular Community Bank Small Business Leadership Forum.

The owners attended weekend classes covering the fundamentals of business management, strategic business planning, access to capital, venture capital funding, marketing and digital operations. The goal: to refine business skill sets while capitalizing on networking opportunities.

Instructors for the forum included faculty and graduate students from the USC Marshall School of Business, the USC Gould School of Law, the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism and the USC Viterbi School of Engineering. Also participating were the Southern California Minority Development Council, the U.S. Small Business Administration and Popular Community Bank employees.

“This program is designed to tap into the wisdom that resides in you,” said City Councilmember Curren Price. “Take advantage of the resources that will help your business expand and grow.”

Price, whose council district includes USC, LA Live, the Los Angeles Convention Center, the Memorial Coliseum and Expo Park, encouraged owners to use the district’s business center, which provides technical assistance, resources and access to business affiliates, including USC.

Rich Schmitt Photography

USC Popular Community Bank Inaugural Cohort with Councilmember Curren Price and Associate Senior Vice President for Civic Engagement Craig Keys. Photo by: Rich Schmitt

Industrial insights
For Gabi Barbarena, president and CEO of the marketing firm ARAS Inc., the value of attending the leadership forum was gaining insight into industries.

“In our group, businesses were at different stages of development,” she said, “and because there were several industries within our cohort, it provided new perspectives on how to approach our strategies.”

Among the leadership forum participants, is smaller group dedicated to ignite and sustain economic development in South Los Angeles by establishing a Business Improvement District along Central Avenue, also known as the historic jazz corridor, and focused on its revitalization efforts with non-profits and Councilman Curren Price behind them.

“We are working with the Urban Design Center to help us establish a Central Avenue BID,” said program graduate Johnny Andrade, and owner of Hi Johnny Catering, “We have gained great momentum and have leadership core group.”

Reflecting on the importance of the program, bank executive Vernon Aguirre said: “This comprehensive program is structured to have a significant impact on small businesses around the USC campus, offering skills and resources that will pay dividends for years to come. We applaud the university’s continual entrepreneurial spirit, and we’re proud to sponsor this innovative program.”

Craig Keys, associate senior vice president for Civic Engagement, added: “We are committed to keeping businesses thriving and to strengthen our workforce in Los Angeles. This is an investment made by all parties for a vibrant and economically successful community.”

The complete list of the inaugural USC Popular Community Bank Small Business Leadership graduates:

Gabriela Barbarena Accesible Resources, Achievable Solutions
Wanda Johnson All Things Grey, LLC
Sarah Chinyere Agiriga Chineyere Inn
Crystal Nicole Jones Cream by Crystal
Sean Nasiri Genyrator
Dajani Nasiri Genyrator
Tony Balsari iOgrapher LLC
David Basulto iOgrapher LLC
Jennifer Renshaw Janco & Winnex Inc.
Andrew Poksay Surfswap
Jorge Nuño The NTS Group
Brittany Jenkins TRT Music Productions, CEO
Aliyah Abdulla TRT Music Productions, CEO
Johnny Andrade Hi Johnny Catering
Lawrence Cisneros Free Spirit Drinks
James Abbott Jr. Realty Advisory Group, Inc.