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Calculated Risks

Sara Glaz

Have a business idea but not sure what the next step is? Looking for a small business loan but getting rejected by all the local banks? Imagine being able to call up a nonprofit and getting the support necessary to create successful business — including the cash to make it thrive.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

After the economic downturn in 2008, community leaders and rabbis saw members losing their jobs one after the other, with few viable opportunities on the horizon. This was the backdrop for Emergency Parnassa Initiative (EPI) under the leadership of Zisha Novoseller. The New York City–based organization implemented an extensive job recruiting effort, instituted programs for men and women to improve their work skills, and set up a small business division that provides mentorship and no-interest loans. To date, EPI has placed 1,800 unemployed men and women in jobs in the New York–New Jersey area and funded more than 150 start-ups, which, in turn, employ an additional 1,000 people. The companies span a range of industries from high-tech and e-commerce to beauty aids and clothing sales and food production, in addition to the education and services sectors. The loans offered by EPI are interest-free and are paid back over three years. “When we first meet with an entrepreneur, we ask for the profit-and-loss projection for the first year,” says Mr. Novoseller. He explains that these numbers include anticipated revenue and expenses, which tell EPI if the business is expected to bring in a profit. More importantly, EPI uses those numbers to gauge the plan as a whole and to determine how knowledgeable the entrepreneur is about the details: the ins and outs of how the business will function, what type of clientele he expects, how he’ll market himself, how much he’s researched his competition, and what challenges he anticipates. “This is where we’re able to dig in, to really figure out how solid the business plan is, as well as what holes exist.” In the five years since its inception, EPI has seen all types of business plans and pitches: the good, the okay-but-needs-tweaking, and the not-so-good. Mishpacha approached three recipients of EPI’s loans to see what it takes to bring an idea to EPI — and ultimately to fruition.

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