Assisting the Smallest of Small Businesses By: The Providence American Posted: December 19, 2009

Urban Ventures
Urban Ventures formed in 1999 as a non-profit 501C(3) organization committed to providing assistance to Rhode Island's micro-entrepreneurs, micro businesses and non-employer businesses at the neighborhood level. Urban Ventures is tailored to include all aspects of business assistance, with a focus towards assisting the client solve existing and/or emerging, urgent, problems or threats to the health of the business. The organization's three core services are the 1) Information Center Identifies business opportunity, social and financial capital, 2) Technical Assistance Implementation of Entrepreneurial package and 3) Advocacy Increase awareness amongst stakeholders. Their Agenda is presented by three key Issues: 1) Identify and Secure Financial Capital, 2) Making The Connection /Access to Social Capital, and 3) The Emerging Markets and Businesses.

Jr Neville Songwe, Interim Director of Urban Ventures looks forward with a renewed resolve for Urban Ventures as the economy has forced a new light on the plight and need for the small business community to remain alive and strong in Rhode Islands' economy. Statistics provide a sense of the need for micro business safety nets says Songwe. In 2006 business data showed that Micro Businesses with fewer than 10 employees made up 95.2% and numbered at about 25.6 million of the businesses in the United States with large businesses of 500 or more employees making up only .07% of American businesses or 18,071 businesses. Small businesses having more than 10 but less than 500 made up the 4.73% difference. Additionally, of the micro business operating at the time 77.5% or 20.8 million of them were Non-employer Businesses, while the Employer Businesses represented about 22.5% or 6 million businesses. Finally, in 2002 about half of all businesses in the United States or 49% were Home-based businesses with 51% non- Home Based. In Rhode Island some 72,389 businesses from all business sectors monitored are Non-Employer Businesses.

Hence Songwe says the new Urban Ventures will focus on 10 urban cities in Rhode Island with Providence, Cranston, Woonsocket, Newport, Warwick, Narragansett, Central Falls, Pawtucket, East Providence and North Providence; and on people of color and other minorities trying to open micro businesses. Urban Ventures operates on a Legislative Grant from the Rhode Island Legislature of some $108,000 for 2009, down from $250,000 in 1999.

According to Songwe there is a renewed interest in maintenance and repair services so for things like automobile, shoe or watch repair businesses, there truly is a market. However construction trades are still the base for non-educated, unskilled labor positions. But Songwe is not deterred from his ambitious plan of bringing Urban Ventures to the forefront as the micro business help line in Rhode Island. With 110 - 120 satisfied clients in their portfolio Songwe sees the organizations success as only the beginning of a new interest in micro businesses. The affordability of the program is also a winner as the fee for Urban Venture services are fixed at $120 a year; and can be paid on a monthly basis for as little as $10 a month.

With a new goal for 2010 Songwe is excited about the possibilities. One of our Goals going forward is to improve our software programs that develop profiles of each client in their portfolio on an annual basis. This system will be accessible by Urban Ventures members and to some degree to the general public and will provide a new model for micro businesses operating in today's economic environment. The difference between SBA and SBANE or SBDC is that they are more focused on the bigger small business rather than the micro business and thus is required to operate under old business models.

The key for anyone that wants to start a business is for the individual to come in with a business sense and an entrepreneurial spirit, because there is no substitute for desire. For those people Urban Ventures is here and ready to serve them.

For information on Urban Ventures you may contact them at their office at 315 Iron Horse Way, Providence, RI 02908; Tel: 401-780-8866, FAX 401-780-8844 and on the internet at