Sarah Adams, a teacher, started a side business selling her Jamaican grandmother’s rum cakes in 2015 with $5,000 from her husband’s retirement savings. Soon, she was handing out samples at markets and street festivals, building her own company, Ms. MaxOne tin at a time.
But when the pandemic crippled her growing business in 2020, Ms. Adams, who lives in a public housing complex in northern Manhattan, was forced to pivot. While teaching remotely, Ms. Adams put the money she had saved by not trying out recipes for vegan muffins, low-sugar cookies and low-carb pizza.
A few months ago, Ms. Adams received a newsletter from her landlord, the New York City Housing Authority, that announced a new competition for entrepreneurs living in public housing. It offered cash prizes of up to $20,000 and free business development classes.
“I thought it was fake,” Ms Adams said. She called the housing authority to make sure it was genuine.
Ms. Adams, 47, is the owner of one of the nine businesses that “NYC Bossed Up,” a “shark Tankstyle competition that invites some of the city’s poorest residents to propose business ideas for further development and funding. A total of 279 applications were submitted, out of which 23 were shortlisted for the final round. Those entrepreneurs presented their business plans and field questions to a panel of judges at the Central Library in Brooklyn in March.
The Boss Up program was funded for five years with a $1 million grant from the family’s foundation. Ron MoelisA real estate developer who got the idea after reading Center for an Urban Future’s 2022 Report, a non-profit organization. The report highlighted an untapped opportunity to increase entrepreneurship among public housing residents.
“Starting a business in New York City is really hard,” said Mr. Moelis, who, after the winning entrepreneurs were selected, met with the losing finalists to give feedback and encourage them to try again next year. .
Mr. Moelis helped develop the Boss Up program with NYCHA, which provides free business programs to residents and other partners, including FJC, a foundation who administered the prize payments.
Applicants to the Boss Up program must live in one of NYCHA’s developments — which have about 368,000 residents throughout the city — or receive a federal rent subsidy through its Section 8 program. One-time rewards are not included in the family’s income, which is used to calculate their rent.
One of the winners, Valeria Ortiz Martinez, 18, who lives at the Dyckman House in Inwood, saw a flyer for the contest in her lobby. He’s turned his idea for a customizable digital business card — which looks like a credit card and transfers information by tapping on a cellphone — into a business, connectotap,
Other winners, like Ms. Adams, were already running small businesses, but needed some help to move to the next level. She plans to use the $20,000 to introduce her own line of healthier baked items and focus more on marketing.
Kat Perez, another winner, started her own business, Kat D Productions, in 2019 with video equipment borrowed from his alma mater, the College of Mount St. Vincent, who was also his first client. While there, Ms. Perez and a friend made two videos of students defining slang. The video simultaneously garnered over six million views.
Since then, Ms. Perez has shot over 50 videos and generated $38,300 in revenue last year. “I felt like I finally had the foundation to grow my business, but I didn’t have the capital or the resources,” said Ms. Perez, 25, who lives with her mother in the Bronx.
With the prize money, Ms Perez plans to hire an assistant, buy additional video equipment and market her company on social media, he said.
Daniel Wool, who founded the company, Digital Design Trusted Technologies, in 2022, plans to use the $20,000 to diversify and market his company, which pays volunteers to test hardware and software systems for companies. “It was the seed of a business – I think they really inspired me to move forward,” said Mr Wool, 45, who lives at Grant House in Morningside Heights.
For Michael Watson, an artist living in Harlem, winning the contest is a chance to build his art business. Fictitious Jones Studio,
During the pandemic, Mr Watson began drawing and painting more and in 2020 saved enough money to open a gallery in Bushwick, Brooklyn. There, Mr. Watson, 35, displayed his watercolors and also featured works by other local artists and musicians. and the cast, most of whom were people of color.
But a year later they had to close the gallery after the landlord rented the space to someone else. Mr. Watson plans to reopen at a second location. However, at the moment he is considering all the options.
“I haven’t spent a dime of the money yet because I want to make sure the plan I have is the best plan,” he said. “I don’t want to make any mistakes.”