Tara Merdjanoff, QNSY, LLC
Owner Tara Merdjanoff has been an actress for 20 years. She’s done it all – commercials, theater, off-broadway, her own cabaret show, all while working the many jobs in the fine dining sector.
Filled with creativity, both Tara and her husband were intrigued by the idea of having cocktails in cans to purchase and started to investigate the idea’s merit. As they spoke with their people in their network and the food industry, they were led to speak with the Queens Economic Development Corporation’s (QEDC) Entrepreneurship Assistance Center (EAC), where they worked with a business counselor to work on their business model and submit their business plan to QEDC’s annual StartUP! Competition in Spring 2021. They emerged as a finalist that round, and although they did not win the cash prize of $10,000, they were able to apply for loans and other funding sources using the business plan they put together for the competition. In the meantime, they decided to start executing their business plan. In September 2021, the brand named QNSY was brought to life. Since then, Tara and her husband have been doing about 4-5 tastings a week at different events and retailers and have been applying for loans with the help of QEDC business counselors. In Spring 2022, Dime Community Bank approved QNSY’s loan of $25,000 and as of July 2022, QNSY retails in about 300 stores across New York City and New Jersey. Tara is very excited about QNSY’s prospects. “QEDC is there to help those who have not done this before,” she states. In the next five years, Tara would like to distribute QNSY, all throughout the East Coast, Connecticut, and Louisiana. She would also like to create strategic partnerships to further reduce her production costs and increase her marketing efforts and visibility.
Melba Yongco Consogno, Tre Lune Dolci
Melba grew up in a small town in the Philippines where her Aunt Anastacia played a huge role in her upbringing. Living next door to Melba’s childhood home, Aunt Anastacia was considered one of the best cooks in that town. She was self-taught and Melba got her passion for cooking from watching Anastacia all her youth.
In July 2020, in the midst of the pandemic, Melba lost her job because the school she was working at since she came to the US in 2002 lost its funding. She stayed home during the pandemic and took her passion for cooking to the next level by experimenting with making different gelato flavors. In April 2021, she came across the Queens Economic Development Corporation’s (QEDC) Entrepreneurship Assistance Center (EAC), where she was directed to the appropriate facility to produce her gelatos. The EAC helped her get licensed, set up legally, and find some sales opportunities. Additionally, seeing Melba’s potential and drive, Melba was recommended to sign up for the QEDC EAC’s annual 60-hour training course, spread over the course of 10 weeks. Within the first three weeks, Melba, with the guidance of her business counselor and classes signed for several events and sold out in a couple of them, earning more than $3,000 in sales.
The response excited her, and Melba completed the course while scouting for more sales opportunities, and additionally completed her business plan which includes her financial projections, marketing strategies and scale-up potential. Melba is happy and hungry for more. Her dream is to open her own gelato cafe in New York City.
Adelaide Paul Chambers, Dekkade Foods, LLC
Born and raised in the Island of Dominica, Adelaide immigrated to the United States to further her education where she received her bachelor’s degree in marketing and an MBA from the University of Central Florida. After relocating to New York in 2001, Adelaide worked as an Office Manager, became a real estate agent, owned a Daycare, and worked as an assistant instructor and then as a High School teacher. In 2014, Adelaide suffered the tragic loss of her sister and had to return to Dominica to say her goodbyes. During that period of mourning, she rediscovered the flavors and aromas that made food so special, and upon her return to the US, felt determined to capture this nostalgia and share it with family and friends in the form of food products. Cooking always brought her pleasure and as she played around with different ingredients, she created an alcoholic punch that infused flavors from her childhood. She figured out how to complete her paperwork and was looking forward to starting when she realized that she needed the funding to get her project off the ground. Adelaide went back to school to teach as her job while she thought about ways to pursue her business idea and market herself. Several years passed by, and Adelaide was receiving a lot of orders of her punch from family and friends. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit and many people were isolated, Adelaide received even more requests for her homemade punch to be delivered. She saw the opportunity and started working on a business plan. She also decided to look around for seminars and courses she can take to further her business education. Looking around, she found the Queens Economic Development Corporation’s (QEDC) Entrepreneurship Assistance Center (EAC) and learned more about their 10-week business training course. In fall 2021, Adelaide joined the program and in the program, she decided to put the alcoholic punch on hold as she launched a new product called Pastonade, which is a sauce that is a marinade, dressing, pesto sauce and condiment, all rolled into one. While in the program, she learned to market her product and was able to speak with stores to secure interest. In fact, because of the interest she secured, she decided to resign from her job and pursue her pastonade full time. In December 2021, she completed the acid food course, essential for any sauce consistency product, and is now trying to get inside a commercial kitchen to start production. She will also participate in the QEDC Queens StartUP! competition in March 2022. As she starts to gear up, Adelaide wishes to see her pastonade in 500 stores, becoming a name brand that people recognize easily and cherish.
UPDATE 12/2022: Adelaide won the StartUP! Competition and received $10,000 that she was able to utilize to complete her initial purchase orders.
Lauren Vega, Weeta’s Cositas Inc.
Growing up, Lauren Vega was heavily inspired by her grandmother, who she called “Weeta” (short for “Abuelita,” the Spanish word for grandmother). She would pay attention to how her Weeta would dress up everyday with the brightest colors and accessories, and store all her jewelry in color coordinated boxes. Her Weeta would be the influencer of her community, and was a strong, extravagant woman.
Inspired by her Weeta, she put her creativity to work and decided to honor her Weeta by extending her sense of community to the public. Lauren decided to open a local store that would sell local treasures for people who have an affinity for their local gems and who want to be part of the local community that comes together to celebrate themselves.
In 2020, while the pandemic caused a lot of delays, she came across her dream store location for rent and decided to talk things out with her family. A couple of days later, in the summer of 2020, she received a newsletter from the Queens Economic Development Corporation’s (QEDC) Entrepreneurship Assistance Center (EAC) offering the 10-week business training course. With the course being virtual, Lauren was able to apply for and sign up for the program, which allowed her to test her idea before she even signed up for a lease on a physical space. Lauren was able to use customer discovery to realize that opening a physical space in the middle of a pandemic was not ideal, so she focused her efforts on creating a website.
By the end of the class, Lauren was able to hone in on her starting point for which items she would be focusing on. She also knew opening her website required funding, so she dedicated January and February of 2021 to working on her business plan to submit for the Annual Queens StartUP! Competition. By March 2021, not only did she submit her application, she also became one of the finalists who will be pitching in the final round to win a grant of $10,000.
In three years, Lauren would ideally like to have a fully operating physical store, with children being able to read books, a functioning cafe, and recurring events being hosted.
Vertulie Pierre-Louis, Jajaara Designs
Growing up in Haiti, Vertulie would watch her godfather make jewelry by hand and do her best to imitate him. Making jewelry made Vertulie happy, but due to cultural and family pressure, she decided to keep jewelry making a hobby and pursue a career in science instead. In doing so, she used jewelry-making to help her cope through her stressful career. After receiving enough encouragement from people who saw her handmade jewelry, she decided to quit her job and figure out her jewelry business. In this process, Vertulie came across the Queens Economic Development Corporation’s (QEDC) Entrepreneurship Assistance Center (EAC) and met with a business counselor who worked with her to figure out how to test the market, develop a product line, price correctly, and to go after sales venues. She also received legal assistance in registering her business and trademarking her logo.
Vertulie was determined and willing to do whatever it took to showcase her jewelry. She worked tirelessly to create her first official collection, price it, and share pictures on an instagram page. Although overwhelmed at times, she simultaneously applied for pop up shows and holiday markets, and she was pleasantly surprised with the response.
“I cannot believe the response that I received,” she said. “I am receiving a lot of love and encouragement, and people are very impressed with my designs. None of this would have been possible without [QEDC’s]help.”
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March, Vertulie used the lockdown time to develop her business further. With a business counselor, she created her website, created a new collection, launched her website. Two years into the pandemic, she feels rejuvenated and in a good place. An avid Shark Tank fan, she truly believes in the mantra, “ if you do not sell, you do not have a business,” and she has been using that mantra to push herself to think more about building the business through sales.
Anna Golda Yu, Work & Tot
Life has a funny way of bringing certain experiences full circle and reminding you how every skill you learn may become indispensable down the line. That was very true for Anna Golda Yu, who’s first job was working at a daycare center and fast forward to today, she now owns and manages a Work & Tot, a co-working space for parents with on site child supervision.
When Anna gave birth to her son in 2016, trying to care for a newborn child and working was next to impossible. Anna often found herself scrambling to get everything done during sleep hours, or having to pay high wages for last minute childcare. Realizing she could not possibly be the only parent to have this dilemma, she began her search for flexible and affordable childcare geared towards parents working remotely or needing flexibility. What she kept finding were daycares with year long waitlists or expensive nannies looking for a set schedule.
After her research, Anna came up with an idea for a coworking space where parents like herself could work, take conference calls and network with their peers and at the same time, have a carefully vetted onsite play-educator take care of the kids.
Through a Google search, Anna came across the Queens Economic Development Corporation’s (QEDC) which provided her with competitive analysis tools, funding options, guidance on location scouting and business plan feedback. After receiving the reassurance that she so desperately needed, Anna was also connected to numerous resources including resources available to women business owners which served as the final push to help her turn this concept into reality.
This journey was not without a few bumps and setbacks; having come so close to signing a lease only to have it fall apart due to a last-minute rent increase, Anna was determined to not give up.
On September 21st, 2019 Anna opened the doors to Work & Tot, a co-working & play-care space for parents and their little ones. In months to come, this business took root through word of mouth and positive feedback of members. It began to grow and evolve into a true community hub, connecting parents to resources, workshops, and to each other. Work & Tot became known as a cozy, welcoming and functional space, where little ones could play and learn while being safe and cared for and their parents could work just on the other side of the LEGO wall, take conference calls in a soundproof phone booth and just catch up on life without worry or distractions, on their own time.
Segun Olaniyi, Priority Cares Home Services
Growing up, Segun saw his grandmother struggling with NYC agencies to coordinate the assistance that she was supposed to receive. He would help her when customer service gave her the runaround, and the more time he spent with her, the more it intrigued him to learn about the institutional problems that were causing delays in administering eldercare and other critical services.
His research into this issue led him to open Priority Cares Home Services, a Consumer Directed Personal Assistance Program enrollment agency.
According to Segun, when people seek eldercare, substance abuse and/or mental health care benefits, they often face poor customer service. “If someone were to fall down and need assistance to get up and make sure that does not happen again, there is no one that can help them right away,” Segun explains. “Just enough time passes before the person gets connected to someone and realizes that they may have injured themselves and need additional care. We are part of that system and we work by connecting everything. By providing that connective tissue, Priority Cares can help expand the life of someone. Here at Priority Cares, we help alleviate the stress and the burden from our clients.”
A year into his business, Segun learned about government contracts and contacted the QEDC’s Entrepreneurship Assistance Center, a state-funded center, to get his M/WBE certification, which enabled him to apply for NYC and NYS contract money. Additionally, he rented office space from QEDC’s Entrepreneur Space and started meeting with a business counselor to create a long-term strategy, understanding how to maintain a positive cash flow and create a profit-and-loss statement. Through numerous consultations, Segun built a solid financial understanding of how to make his business profitable.
Satisfied with his current state of $150,000 in annual revenue and 16 employees, Segun would like to focus on obtaining contracts with insurance companies, developing long-term relationships with employees and improving money management in the upcoming year. He then wants to expand into the cleaning industry and participate in nursing home diversion programs and assisted living on the way to becoming a one-stop shop for eldercare.
Paramjit Singh, Divina Threading
A native of India, Dinesh Prajapati decided to open his own business. After reconnaissance, in October of 2012, he opened Divina Threading, a nail salon and spa. As is the case with many new businesses, it was really slow at first. However, a loyal following emerged after a year, and Dinesh and Divina Threading became a permanent staple in Sunnyside, Queens.
Most of its workers, which specialize in such treatments, especially threading, are from Nepal.
When the dreadful pandemic came around, it had an unforgiving effect on businesses, especially in the personal care services category, forcing Dinesh’s business to close down for about 5 months. Nefarious to Dinesh, commercial rent was still due. This placed an unexpected burden upon him.
To make matters worse, half of his employees had found other work, such as babysitting and restaurant work, and/or had moved. Hiring new staff was also troublesome, since the pandemic placed a stranglehold on travel, which prevented new workers from Nepal and India from joining. Plus with many loyal clients moving out of state, revenue dropped by over 65%.
In October of 2021, a QEDC business counselor facilitated the NYS Pandemic Small Business Recovery Grant application process for Dinesh, thoroughly directing him, and elevating his chances of being approved. Less than 2 months later, Dinesh was awarded $12,000, which he aptly used for rent and payroll. While this is not enough to help circumvent all of his tribulations faced throughout this pandemic, it definitely provides some relief.
Dinesh continues to receive assistance to achieve continuous prosperity for his business, currently connecting him to an interview for a news article.
Nanaba David Akunvabey, Zoar City Gardens
“Government contracts can be confusing, and I felt intimidated to apply due the application process. That changed when I walked through the doors of QEDC. I take pride in being certified with NYC, NYS, and NY/NJ Port Authority. I could not have done this without the guidance and assistance of QEDC.”
Sabrina St. John, Developing Strategic Training Solutions for Corporations & Non-Profits
“Thanks to the support of the Queens Tourism Council, we were able to effectively promote the 2019 Queens World Film Festival not only in Queens but across the entire city. Consequently, 65% of our audience came from outside of the borough. The majority of them stayed in Queens to eat or shop. That’s good for everyone!”
Don & Katha Cato, Queens World Film Festival
Queens Tourism Council
“Completing the Entrepreneurship Assistance Center program helped me build a solid foundation to start my food business. The skills I learned have been invaluable. I had the idea, but the counselors gave me the motivation to execute it. I also met other entrepreneurs and made connections. It was a great learning experience.”
Maida Sharpe Silverio, Vegan Goods Line
Entrepreneur Assistance Center
“Being a client of the Entrepreneur Space has helped me bring my dreams of a chocolate company to reality. Coming from a corporate background, I knew nothing about a food start-up. In three years, the guidance of the Entrepreneur Space professionals has helped me produce and package chocolate truffles and bars to major corporations such as Google, Santander Bank, Soho House, and Roger Vivier.”
Milène Jardine, Milène Jardine Chocolatier
“MiQ has helped expand treestar*’s market reach and facilitated invaluable partnerships with major retailers, such as the Marshall Retail Group, which now distribute our artisan soaps in shops at LaGuardia and JFK airports. We have achieved more than $5,000 in sales since May 2019. I’m deeply appreciative to the great team at MiQ who made this all possible.”
Jose Alvarez, treestar*
Made in Queens
“I knew there was a market for a quality cheese shop in Queens. Though I know cheese, I also needed to know how to start a business. The counselors at the QEDC provided me with the help I needed to open the doors of Stand Alone Cheese in Jackson Heights. We opened those doors in 2019, and we’re already becoming a neighborhood institution”
Steffen Kenny, Stand Alone Cheese
“I was so happy when I finally got my New York City Home Improvement Contractor license. I don’t think I would have been able to do it on my own. The QEDC not only prepared me for the test, but also guided me through the entire process of starting a business in a new country. That was a big relief for me as an immigrant. I’m very grateful that the QEDC cares about immigrants.”
Xin Zhang, Home Contractor
Home Improvement Contractor Training.
“My daughters were so excited when they heard my name announced as a winner of the StartUP! Business Plan Competition. Now, with the funds provided from the grant I am actively growing my business. I am extremely grateful for all the support through the Women’s Business Center. I couldn’t have done this without their help.”
Afua Ayisi, Bosuo Food Group
Women’s Business Center and 2019 StartUP! Business Competition winner
“Richmond Hill will benefit by being included in the Avenue NYC commercial revitalization program. We look forward to Liberty Avenue becoming a stronger shopping street that will make it more attractive to businesses, residents, and visitors.”