Challenges for the Low-Income, Small Business Entrepreneur

by Al Lopez, EGBI Executive Director

For many people, owning their own business is a dream that may never become a reality, simply because the concept of becoming an entrepreneur is foreign.  There are a thousand reasons why low-income entrepreneurs never start their business, such as no access to start-up capital, unavailable financing due to poor credit, and limited connections to influential people.

While the challenges may seem insurmountable, there are options for low-income entrepreneurs looking to start a small business.  Here are just a few challenges you may face and how EGBI’s resources can help you:

  • Challenge 1Exposure to role models and mentors – the lack of role models and mentors is one of the main reasons why low-income entrepreneurs have difficulty starting small businesses.  Successful entrepreneurs have many role models and at least one mentor available to them at all times.  To overcome this challenge, you should reach out to other entrepreneurs, attend functions where you can meet others that have started successful businesses, and take advantage of the network of professionals and resources available at EGBI. We enjoy creating mentor/mentee relationships with our clients, so don’t hesitate reaching out to us to schedule a consultation.
  • Challenge 2Failure to see Entrepreneurship as a career option – because many low-income people do not have the same exposure to entrepreneurs, they often fail to see the benefit of being an entrepreneur.  Individuals who have the desire, need to have encouragement.  To overcome this challenge, make an effort to meet others with the same desires.  The programs available at EGBI will help provide you the encouragement you need to become a successful small business entrepreneur, and allow you to envision this as your career.
  • Challenge 3Misunderstanding of basic financial literacy – because low-income people have little money, they often lack the basic knowledge in regards to finances.  Understanding basic finances, such as balancing a checkbook, understanding credit, and more, will not only help you pay off debt and improve your credit rating, but will give you the ability to raise capital to fund your new business.  Learning financial management is a great resource available to you at EGBI through our entrepreneurial training.
  • Challenge 4Finding access to capital – no matter what type of business you wish to start, it is beneficial to understand and know how to find access to the necessary capital.  Since most low-income entrepreneurs have limited resources, such as family, friends, or their own money, they must rely on finding other avenues to fund their start-ups.  There is an abundance of resources available today for new entrepreneurs looking to start a business – you just need to know where to look. A good place to start is the upcoming Central Texas Small Business Forum on Oct. 14th.

Becoming an entrepreneur is a dream that many people have, but seldom is that dream made a reality.  For many reasons, people will squash their dream, simply because they lack the knowledge to start.  However, there are many programs available to help you become a small business owner and start you on the path to success and financial freedom.  You simply need to take the first step – contact EGBI today to see how we can help you make your dream a reality!

Listening to your clients matters – A LOT

What does client feedback buy your fledgling business?

Provides information.

Is your offering good or what needs to change? We think we have a great product or service, especially if our business is doing well. But staying in tune with customers is critical feedback.

Helps you keep customers.

Sometimes even if the customer wasn’t thrilled with your service, getting their feedback is a great way to let them know you care about how the experience went. It is much more profitable to keep existing customers than to constantly acquire new ones.

Improves your product or service.

Understanding the strengths and weaknesses from the customer’s perspective is the start of how you may want to modify your offering. If you do get some strong feedback that something needs to change, that is great signal that you may lose customers if you don’t modify your offering.

Identifies clients that can promote you.

Client referrals are invaluable. When you get good feedback, you may find a client that wants to endorse you.  That is the most powerful promotion vehicle that will keep you out in front of your competition.

So, what do we do at EGBI If you have been following our exploits we have had four very good years since our re-launch of the organization in 2011 when it supported only 16 clients that were in business. As of 2014, we now have over 100 small businesses represented by our clients that did over $10 million in revenue last year. We have improved our curriculum and services during that time period.  We also added the capability for clients to take our class remotely as a result of their input.  But, did we think we were done?  We actually conducted a focus group in December to get real feedback from our clients… who by all measures endorsed EGBI heartily.  We still got some great constructive feedback. What resulted was a few of key changes that are already paying dividends.

The recent changes we’ve made: We are now offering ourCurso Empresarial (Spanish/Bi-lingual) course in the evening; we have developed an introductory workshop that has attracted many new clients; we developed a Marketing, Sales, and Customer Relations curriculum; finally, we created a modular approach to our program so that clients can take either the Marketing, Sales, & Customer Relationssessions or the Business Financials & Accounting session, or both. Even with the modular approach, our clients see the value of our other services.

So, although based on EGBI’s success, our offerings were strong, it’s not the best approach to keep doing what you (think you) “know” the clients need… what they want is very critical. Every business should be vigilant in the arena of securing and taking action based on customer feedback.

Prepara tu negocio para el maraton mas importante

Prepara Tu Negocio Para el Maraton Mas Importante

Nayeli Gallegos, 3 de Abril 2014

El Mundo 4.3.14

El domingo pasado, en Cedar Park se llevo a cabo la carrera de la popular serie “The Biggest Loser”. La carrera consistía en un medio maratón (13 millas), una carrera de 5 kilómetros y una carrera de una milla para niños. Yo tuve la fortuna de participar en el medio maratón, y terminé con unos resultados muy satisfactorios. Conforme reflexionaba acerca de mi participación, me di cuenta que mi preparación fue muy parecida a la preparación que llevan los empresarios cuando comienzan un negocio.

business-startup RACE

Fijar una meta clara y alcanzable

Aunque siempre me ha gustado correr, cuando decidí registrarme para la carrera nunca había corrido mas de 4.5 millas. 13 millas parecían un imposible, pero pensé que si otras personas lo hacían, yo con la preparación adecuada podía lograrlo también. Igualmente, como dueño de tu negocio, siempre debes tener en mente (y por escrito) metas claras, medibles y alcanzables. Aunque de momento parezcan un imposible, debes tener un objetivo por que luchar, prepararte día a día y motivar a tu equipo a lograrlo.

Fijar objetivos a corto plazo

No fue por arte de magia que fui capaz de correr el triple de millas de enero a marzo. Tuve que entrenar semanalmente, y me fijé el objetivo de aumentar una milla por semana para ir mejorando mi rendimiento. Así mi cuerpo se fue preparando poco a poco para correr mayor distancia cada vez. De igual manera, tu como empresario requieres de capacitación y de fijarte objetivos a corto plazo que te indiquen el camino para lograr tus metas a largo plazo.

Preparación

Nunca había entrenado para una carrera así, por lo que busqué información en internet para ver tips acerca de cómo entrenar. Además acudí a personas que corren maratones de manera regular, cuyos consejos fueron fundamentales el día de la carrera. Así mismo, tu debes saber que no estás solo. Que si bien, el internet es un gran aliado en la búsqueda de información, también existe un gran número de organizaciones dedicadas a apoyar al empresario con su pequeña empresa. Tal es el caso de la Incubadora de Negocios EGBI, que ofrece capacitaciones gratuitas y cursos intensivos de bajo costo para personas que quieren comenzar un negocio o que ya tienen uno y necesitan ayuda para hacerlo crecer.

Sacrificio y disciplina

Mi entrenamiento requirió sacrificio y mucha disciplina. La preparación incluía levantarme temprano, hacer un esfuerzo extra cada semana para correr mayor distancia, mejorar mi alimentación y mi hidratación. De igual manera, tu como empresario, debes saber que el sacrificio y la disciplina son parte del día a día. Y aunque a veces parezca que estás sacrificando mucho sin obtener resultados inmediatos, es importante que tengas en mente tus metas a largo plazo para que te sirvan de motivación.

Ser ejemplo para mi familia

Tengo dos hijas, y parte de mi motivación es que ellas vean que las mujeres podemos ser profesionistas, amas de casa, estudiantes, madres y que además podemos llevar una vida activa y saludable. Igualmente, imagino que tu llevas tu negocio con la ilusión de proveer para tu familia, pero también para ser un ejemplo de superación para tus hijos.

Motivación y perseverancia

Creer en mi misma, estar motivada y ser perseverante definitivamente fueron clave para mi. Y es así como todo empresario se debe sentir. Debes creer que puedes, auto-motivarte y motivar a tu equipo de trabajo, y ser perseverante. Debe saber que mientras tengas metas y objetivos claros que te muestren el camino, tus posibilidades de éxito serán cada vez mayores.

Si te encuentras en la carrera de los pequeños negocios, acude a EGBI, quien te puede brindar bases importantes para mejorar tu preparación, aumentar tu rendimiento y dar motivación para alcanzar el éxito. Las próximas clases bilingües comienzan el 22 de abril (las de ingles el 7 de abril), y el costo es de $200 pero EGBI ofrece becas y descuentos. No desaproveches los recursos que están a tu alcance para lograr el éxito empresarial. Llama a EGBI al 512-928-2594, visita www.egbi.org y regístrate para Curso Empresarial hoy mismo! No olvides preguntar por nuestras becas.

Publicado en El Mundo Newspaper, 3 de Abril 2014:

http://elmundonewspaper.com/images/stories/elmundo/PDFs/edicion_13.pdf

2013 Blog Posts

2013 Blog Posts

What We Are Thankful for

Al Lopez, December 16, 2013

Thanksgiving may have just passed, but I have not stopped being thankful for another great year here at EGBI!

Just before the holiday, we celebrated our last graduation for clients who completed our entrepreneurship training.  In all, this year we had 80 individuals complete at least 30 hours of business training and present their business plan to their class and the EGBI staff.  The graduation celebrated a wonderful blend of new and developing partnerships, including Las Comadres para las Americas, University of Texas Pan Am Veteran’s Center, El Buen Samaritano, and FuturoFund. Read more…

Mother and Daughter Business Kicks Off at EGBI

By Nayeli Gallegos, December 13, 2013

Bea Baylor worked as a full time nurse for 20 years. At the same time, for the last seven years, she had been informally running her business from home… providing her services for free most of the time. As a 13 year cancer survivor, Bea has been an advocate for women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer, helping them create a journey to healing. She wrote the book “My Tribulations Made Me Fabulous” which will be published in 2014, and she was featured in the latest issue of Renewed Magazine. Read more…

EGBI Client Opens Food Trailer on Rainey Street

By Al Lopez, July 30, 2013

About two thirds of EGBI graduates wind up starting a business. In most cases, taking into account their learning, they decide to delay the start to do it in a better prepared way. This is the case of Vann Brown, who graduated from Building Success Program in August 2011. All of last year, she worked on developing her plan, continued to getting business training, attended a couple of our workshops, networked at our Annual Reunion, and kept EGBI in the loop of her progress.

On May 26th, we were thrilled to attend the grand opening of My Granny’s Kitchen food trailer on the fairly exclusive Rainey Street downtown. Read more…

Support EGBI’s First e-Raiser!

Our first online and social media fundraiser, April 16-May 16, 2013

By Al Lopez, April 17, 2013

Last October, I wrote about why I support EGBI, hoping to stimulate some additional support for our organization.  Well, needless to say, I was pretty gratified by the results we experienced last fall…

…In an effort to continue to broaden our outreach and diversify our supporters—folks who know about and are willing to invest in EGBI—we’re holding our first ever online and social media fundraiser over the next four weeks.  What we would like to do is have as many of our connections (and their connections) commit to a $25 donation to EGBIRead more…

Is Collaborating Really Beneficial?

By Al Lopez, March 28, 2013

In the last couple of years, as I have navigated around the nonprofit/public sector, I’ve observed very different levels of organizations that are willing to work together when it may be in the very best interest of the clients they serve and the mission they purport to have. Read more…

I know we’ve talked about this, but ARE YOU FINANCIALLY FIT?

By Al Lopez, March 19, 2013

Our initial session for EGBI’s small business startup training is Boot Camp. Many of you have taken it, and I know that many wonder why we are starting our “how to start a business” program with a class on personal finances and credit. However, it is surprising to me how many of the clients who begin our program have very little idea when it comes to their financial obligations, book-keeping and overall financial fitness. So we start with the basics and build on that. Read more…

What kind of clients come to EGBI? Client feature: Teresa Valenzuela-Basa

By Al Lopez, February, 2013

The diversity of our clients is an element that makes our experience here at EGBI especially interesting and rewarding. At one end of the spectrum, we have folks who don’t yet have a specific business but feel that sometime in the future they will start a business. At the other end, we have clients who already have a business developing, but have reached a point where they realize they really need and want to have a more formal business plan, such was the case of Teresa Valenzuela-Basa. Read more…

EGBI Client Highlight: Home Help Services by Verobran

By Nayeli Gallegos, January, 2013

Veronica Trevisan is the Co-Owner of Home Help Services by Verobran along with Branbilia Mendoza. They offer home support services, a combination of residential cleaning and home health care. Veronica, a native from Argentina and Branbilia (Bran), a native from Mexico, met each other in 2006 while working for a Mexican Taqueria. Read more…

Happy Holidays from EGBI

By Al Lopez, December 2012

As we approach the holiday season, we reflect on the great year we had. We are thankful to be in a place that nurtures the entrepreneurial spirit and contributes to the development of our community; we are thankful for our growing list of clients and supporters; and we are thankful for everything we accomplished in 2012.  Read more…

 

 

Is Your Skillset Current?

Is Your Skillset Current?

Al Lopez, January 16, 2014

It’s interesting to me how often I get a call where someone says, “I’m starting a business, and I have just one question.” In our sense of urgency to hurry and get started or stay on task with the job we have, we often neglect the value of taking the time to equip ourselves so that over the long run we can enjoy more success. I am a firm believer in the importance of education for our youth, but it can’t end there. Education needs to be a priority and not just one more thing you add to your to-do list. Everything we know, including our professional skills, is rapidly becoming obsolete. This means that it’s not enough to work hard. We must be constantly updating our knowledge and acquiring new skills. I hope that when the day comes I stop learning someone is calling the mortician.

As entrepreneurs, we sometimes think that keeping our skills current doesn’t matter for us. You can benefit from staying up-to-date no matter what kind of work you do. With better knowledge you’ll make better decisions, and you’ll see threats and opportunities sooner, which can give you a cutting edge and help you adjust your plans. Also, learning how to effectively and efficiently run your business and staying abreast of the latest industry enhancements will earn you the respect of your customers, suppliers, and supporters/investors.

We have never been faced with so much change, and that is also true for businesses. I heard recently that more information has been produced in the last 30 years than was produced in the previous 5000 years, and that the “total body of knowledge” will continue to double every five years. We must keep our skills and knowledge current in order to keep up with required changes to how we run our businesses and how we must update our products or services to keep solving our customers’ new problems.

Small business owners cannot neglect the need to learn. Continuous learning is connected to better business performance and higher likelihood of surviving the wall that all small businesses hit at some point in their life cycle – 50% of the time in the first five years.

With today’s technology, there are many ways to stay current or to learn more about your industry. Stay up to date by reading articles, listening to podcasts of experts in areas you want to develop, and networking. You don’t have to know everything, from every source about your industry, but you need to stay current to learn how to skim for relevant and important information.

The benefits are pretty obvious. New knowledge and skills help prevent repeating mistakes, identify and implement best practices, and contribute to business success.

That’s what EGBI is about… creating an opportunity for small business owners to get equipped to start and manage their business, on-going mentoring/counseling, continuing education through workshops, and incubation if their business requires it.

If you are looking to challenge yourself in learning how to better run a business, there is still time to join our current cohorts of Building Success Program (English evening class) and Curso Empresarial (bi-lingual morning class). Sign up now!

What We are Thankful for

What We Are Thankful for

Al Lopez, December 16, 2013

Thanksgiving may have just passed, but I have not stopped being thankful for another great year here at EGBI!

Just before the holiday, we celebrated our last graduation for clients who completed our entrepreneurship training.  In all, this year we had 80 individuals complete at least 30 hours of business training and present their business plan to their class and the EGBI staff.  The graduation celebrated a wonderful blend of new and developing partnerships, including Las Comadres para las Americas, University of Texas Pan Am Veteran’s Center, El Buen Samaritano, and FuturoFund.

Even with our amazing staff, we couldn’t do all this alone.  In 2013, EGBI delivered over 550 class hours of training – a 44% increase over 2012!  Our dedicated volunteers facilitated over half of those class hours.  And while it is difficult to single one out, we are especially thankful for Manuel Alverdi of Taxes Impuestos y Mas who was named Volunteer of the Year at our third annual Celebrating Success event.

At our Celebrating Success event, we highlighted the fellowship and generosity of our supporters.  Most non-profit events yield about 50% of the gross proceeds. Keeping our costs very low enabled us to direct nearly 90% of the proceeds directly to our program needs.

Another key measure of our success is the way prior students have stayed in touch with the EGBI family. At our year-end event we heard from Jason and Michelle Villarreal, owners of Villarreal Insect and Pest Solutions, and Donie Torrance, owner of Nails Naturally. They shared moving personal testimonies of how their heart for entrepreneurship led them to realize a dream with great benefits to their families – and how EGBI played a key role in making those dreams come alive.

To date, EGBI has graduated 250 clients from our Building Success Program.  About one-third of our graduates have started their businesses and are generating revenue, paying taxes, and employing, on average, two and a half employees – with relatively young and growing businesses.  Last year, our clients reported over $6M of revenue and almost 150 jobs created or sustained. We’re looking forward to our annual client survey for 2013, and anticipate even more impressive results.

It’s great to be a part of an organization that is successfully equipping entrepreneurs to achieve their dreams.  We are grateful for the tremendous support we received this year from our partners at the Housing Authority of the City of Austin, the Chambers of Commerce, Las Comadres para las Americas, Walmart, Wells Fargo, AT&T, IBM, and BB&T just to name a few.  We couldn’t do the work we do without their support.

We’re looking forward to 2014, a year that will have plenty of opportunities. We recognize there will also be challenges, but we are confident that with hard work and the consistent collaboration and support from our partners, we will overcome whatever difficulties come our way. You can be a part of this opportunity – it’s never too late to invest in our efforts.  Won’t you consider a year-end, tax-deductible gift to EGBI to assist us in expanding our programs and services?

Happy holidays, all! We look forward to working with you in the New Year!

Mother&Daughter

Mother & Daughter Business Kicks-Off at EGBI

By Nayeli Gallegos, December 13, 2013

Bea Baylor worked as a full time nurse for 20 years. At the same time, for the last seven years, she had been informally running her business from home… providing her services for free most of the time. As a 13 year cancer survivor, Bea has been an advocate for women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer, helping them create a journey to healing. She wrote the book “My Tribulations Made Me Fabulous” which will be published in 2014, and she was featured in the latest issue of Renewed Magazine.

Her daughter, Chamita Griffin had been helping other women doing research on how to start a business, and where to find funding sources. While researching Chamita found a product  that does exactly what they were looking for. So they partnered up with Credit Network Assistance and packaged it in a one-stop shop, which is what makes their business coaching style stand out.  In July 2013, Bea attended a women’s conference called Defy Impossible hosted by Dr. Venus Opal Reese in Dallas, Texas. That is where she realized that she was part of a great number of women who are used to taking care of others and giving her talents away and don’t monetize on what they are worth.

She was inspired and empowered to formalize her business and decided to partner with her daughter on what it is now Baylor’s Business Consulting Enterprise. They learned about EGBI and immediately saw a good fit and found a welcoming place to launch their business enterprise.

Baylor’s Business Consulting Enterprise specializes in working with small to medium businesses, to help them secure funding and build their business credit as well as providing one on one support. They have a network of over 2100 lenders, of which 400 are directly integrated in their Business Funding Suite.  Their business  credit  advisors  and  business coach walk business owners through each step very carefully to make sure  they  obtain the funding they need  to grow their business and be profitable in a short period of time.

“Our goal is to educate new and existing business owners on how to leverage their business credit and obtain the funding needed to take their business to the next level” said Ms. Baylor.

We love seeing entrepreneurial spirit run in families and we are proud of these mother and daughter entrepreneurs. To learn more about their business and services, please call 512-350-1747.

My Granny’s Kitchen

EGBI Client Opens Food Trailer on Rainey Street

By Al Lopez, July 30, 2013

About two thirds of EGBI graduates wind up starting a business. In most cases, taking into account their learning, they decide to delay the start to do it in a better prepared way. This is the case of Vann Brown, who graduated from Building Success Program in August 2011. All of last year, she worked on developing her plan, continued to getting business training, attended a couple of our workshops, networked at our Annual Reunion, and kept EGBI in the loop of her progress.

On May 26th, we were thrilled to attend the grand opening of My Granny’s Kitchen food trailer on the fairly exclusive Rainey Street downtown.

My Granny’s Kitchen was inspired by Vann’s grandmother, who had a passion for cooking and providing healthy meals to her family. Vann shares the same passion, and she understands that spending time in the kitchen preparing healthy meals can reduce the quality time with the family, so her goal is to provide a solution to those of us with busy lifestyles.

“We at My Granny’s Kitchen strive to provide a healthy affordable fast food alternative to the everyday family that is available when you need it and revive the traditions of southern style cooking” said Vann.

We applaud Vann’s perseverance and wish her all the success in her new business. We invite you to please take the time to stop by My Granny’s Kitchen and try one of the delicious meals on her menu “There is no reason why nutritious meals cannot be sold as fast food!”.

Vann is one of many EGBI clients who have accomplished their goal of starting a business. We are proud of her and look forward to many more celebrations to come.

 

My Granny’s Kitchen

Mobile Food

The Austin Chronicle

http://www.austinchronicle.com/food/2010-08-20/1070852/

Mobile Food

Some tips on getting a foot in the door of the trailer business

BY MICK VANN, AUGUST 20, 2010, FOOD

The mobile food trailer, cart, or truck is the new wave of Austin eatery, and it’s taking off like gangbusters, attracting national TV, radio, and print media. Austin had 648 mobile food businesses in 2006, but we’re projected to have 1,620 by the end of 2011. Many see it as the inexpensive alternative to opening a brick-and-mortar restaurant: While a mobile operation can be opened on a shoestring for $20,000 to $30,000 (the cost of a new car), a full-fledged restaurant can start at 10 times that amount and quickly rocket way, way up. While a mobile vendor might have zero to very few additional employees, even a small cafe requires at least a dozen. With dependent staff and lots of money invested come responsibility, worries, and headache, while the mobile vendor can start up with his psyche relatively unscathed.

What’s happening here in Austin reflects a national trend. New York City has a permit waiting list 10,000 people long and a new Green Cart program that shortens the wait if a licensee agrees to sell only fresh fruits and veggies and target neighborhoods with a need. With mobile food vendor permits capped by the city’s health department at 4,000, there’s a huge and lucrative black market for selling or leasing existing permits, and relatively violent cart wars have broken out over competition for spots. New York has its wildly popular annual Vendy Awards, which give awards to the best food vendors in the city, determined by diners’ votes and a panel of expert chef judges. Los Angeles just held its first-ever L.A. Street Food Fest and had 15,000 people turn out. San Francisco, long the habitat of burrito and taco trucks, has entered the fray with more than 50 new mobile food trucks Twittering their nomadic locations to the faithful. Portland, Ore., now has 600-plus vendors, and the list goes on.

To jump in seamlessly, you need a creative and original idea, along with food as good as, or hopefully much better than, that already being prepared in the area. It helps if your product is unique, but at the very least, it had better be good and worth the price. It’s a plus if there are hordes of drunken, starving, cash-laden pedestrians staggering by your operation every night, but if what you produce is appetizing enough, the hordes will go to considerable trouble to seek you out, aided by bloggers and food sites like Chowhound.com and TacoJournalism.com.

To get your operation started, you need to start a long series of steps, the first of which is gathering the required money. Many of the next steps are outlined in the Austin/Travis County Health and Human Services Depart­ment’s packet for a permit (see “Links for Hitching Up,” below). For this, you’ll need deep pockets (yours or an investor’s) or a pile of empty credit cards and, with either, a business plan to go along with that great idea and your talent. You need to know your start-up costs, and when you start ciphering those, they can add up quickly.

If you want to roam the streets and tweet changing locations, a used catering truck can go for as little as $10,000, while a new one can cost $75,000 or more. (Under a new proposal due to be enacted in October if it is approved, your itinerary must be on file with the health department; more on that toward the end of this story.) If it’s a trailer you’re after, a new 16-footer can be had for $16,000 or twice as much. You can always build one yourself on a trailer frame or retrofit an older trailer such as an Airstream, Shasta, Airfloat, or Spar­tan. A Web search will turn up dozens of used truck, trailer, and food-cart dealers. The requirements are simple: cleanable surfaces that can be sanitized, triple sink and hand sink, refrigeration that holds foods at temperatures below 41 degrees, equipment to hold hot foods at 135 degrees or higher, pressurized water system with a hot water heater, gray water capacity that exceeds freshwater by 15%, and thermometers to monitor temperatures of foods. Basically it must operate within the same guidelines as a restaurant kitchen, and once a year it must make a sacred pilgrimage to the headquarters of the health department to be inspected and permitted (so for a brief time annually it must possess the capacity to roll through traffic).

Commissary Kitchen

Whether you’re restricted (selling prepackaged products) or unrestricted (producing food in the trailer or truck), you’re required to be aligned with a commissary kitchen. The commissary kitchen must be inspected on a regular basis, have a certified potable drinking water source for filling the trailer’s freshwater supply, and have a grease trap so that wastewater (aka gray water) from the trailer can be disposed of properly and not pollute the city’s water system. The commissary can be used for cleaning the vending unit, storing raw materials, food preparation, etc. The guidelines enforce this requirement by stipulating that the vendor have a notarized and signed affidavit from the commissary kitchen, and the new proposed regulations require the vendor to keep a monthly log of visits to the commissary. There are a very limited number of commissary kitchens available in town (see “Commissary Kitchens”, below); these can be expensive on an ongoing basis, and you may not have much of a choice on when you get to use the facilities (many are open 24 hours). What many vendors do to satisfy the requirement is to align themselves with an existing restaurant.

Location

The cost of your location is rapidly becoming a big concern; currently a spot can cost anywhere from nothing (for a sweetheart deal with friends or family) to $1,500 a month, the highest rate we have heard of so far. But don’t expect that rent ceiling to last, as space becomes restricted and more vendors hit the scene. Location cost is one of the main motivators in causing mobile vendors to band together to establish more and more “trailer park eateries,” where vendors of complementary food items group together to share a location and thus share their common overhead costs: trash removal, electric service, rent, set-up and cleaning of common eating areas, restroom facilities, etc. Generally the concept works much like a “restaurant row,” where a larger collection of dining options in one place lures more total diners to the area. These arrangements can be transitory, especially when one vendor gets more popular than the others and starts hogging vital resources, such as limited parking.

Obviously you want a location with good traffic flow, foot traffic if at all possible (since the need for parking is reduced if you can lure pedestrian diners right off the sidewalk). With city sidewalk or easement locations you usher in a whole new set of problematic restrictions, having to deal with the city’s Right of Way Management Approval Network ordinances (call 974-7180 for specifics). You want good visibility from the road for car-borne diners and a spot for them to park their cars, whether they’re stopping in to grab a to-go order or staying there to dine on-site. You desperately want some shade in the summertime, or you’re limited to serving only at night, serving to-go only, or spending the bucks to erect a sun cover or shade of some sort. Finally, there are some restrictions on location that must be addressed. Carts have to be in properly zoned areas: commercial or industrial, excluding neighborhood office, limited office, and general office. They can’t be located within 50 feet of a building that contains both commercial and residential uses and can’t be within 20 feet of a restaurant located in a building. There are also special neighborhoods with their own special vendor rules; for a map, see www.cityofaustin.org/planning/neighborhood/downloads/mobile_food_faq.pdf.

Power

If there isn’t already an existing power source on your site, you can opt for having a power drop and a fuse box installed, which, according to area electricians, will cost anywhere between $3,000 and $5,000, depending on the distance to the power pole. The alternative is a noisy and smelly power generator, which will run you $500 to $4,000; requires the cost, delivery, and safe storage of fuel (and the memory to keep the generator gas tank full); and necessitates the money or mechanical knowledge to keep the machine maintained.

Employee Costs

Minimum wage is currently $7.25 per hour, but most vendors pay a higher wage than that, and the employees have the opportunity to get a few tips as well. Between Medicare, Social Security, and federal and state unemployment taxes, plan on adding another 16.5% or so to your labor costs. If you want to provide a hospitalization policy, start at $300 a month and go up; for workers’ compensation, figure about $200 a month per employee.

Restrooms

Most folks think the mobile vendor restroom requirement is aimed at the diner, but, according to Austin/Travis County Health and Human Services’ Sue Simons, it’s actually for the vendor and his workers, though many vendors will include their diners and provide facilities for the comfort of the customer. Some vendors provide on-site flushable toilets; others have portable toilets and portable hand-washing stations. Under the proposed new regulations, vendors must provide either written proof that a neighboring business within 50 feet allows vendor workers to use their flushable toilets or a signed contract from a portable toilet supplier. Every trailer must have a hand-wash sink inside for employees’ use. Put in a flushable restroom, and you’re looking at $20,000 to $30,000; a portable toilet will run you about $100 a month, and a portable hand-wash station about the same.

Dining

If you want a ground cover to prevent mud, think pea gravel or decomposed granite as the cheapest choices. One cubic yard will cover 324 square feet at a depth of 1 inch, so do the math. Granite, pea gravel, or shredded hardwood mulch are roughly $32 a yard, while cedar mulch is around $20, plus delivery at about $75 a load and labor to spread it. Picnic table kits are roughly $100 each, plus you’ll need long chains and locks to secure them overnight; for commercial quality picnic tables that can be permanently anchored to the ground, start at $400 to $500 each and go up. Two-tier, wind-resistant 10-foot umbrellas start at about $125 each, and you’d need some place to securely store them overnight. A permanent metal shed roof on posts would be the ideal coverage option; it would protect diners during rain and could be inexpensively enclosed in the winter. Fans in the summer and rental or purchase of propane space heaters in the winter (plus the cost of the propane, which isn’t cheap) are necessities. Diners will suffer for great food, but they won’t suffer that much.

You’re going to need money for smallwares and tools and money to buy supplies to get started. By all rights, you should have enough operating capital in reserve to squeak by financially for six months or so with lousy business (consultants suggest a one-year reserve). Adver­tis­ing is usually done guerrilla-style, using fliers, food blogs, and the king of Austin mobile food vending sites:AustinFoodCarts.com.

Permissions Granted?

Finally, you need permits – an ever-growing pile of permits. A Travis County DBA (Doing Business As) will run you at least $13, a state sales and use tax permit is free, the newly proposed mobile vendor application fee will be $125 (a fee “to process the application,” but it’s actually to fund three new inspectors, according to Simons), a food manager’s certification permit is $110 (plus you must take and pass the test), the Austin health department fee is $210 ($90 for a restricted permit, or $60 in unincorporated Travis County), and the new proposed Fire Department inspection fee is $125. All together, that’s $585 that has to be paid up front to make you legit.

All of these rules are supposed to be based on maintaining public safety, but health department statistics that were presented at City Council Public Health and Human Services Committee meetings revealed that since 2006, only five of 699 public complaints regarding suspected food-borne illness implicated mobile food vendors. That flies in the face of the complaints by Tom Ramsey, owner of Snappy Snacks, a large Pflugerville-based mobile food vending company that leases out 70 food trucks to independent operators who cruise construction sites, office buildings, and the like. He developed a list of 42 health, safety, and environmental concerns he wanted the council to address to crack down on what he views as his new competition – this growing class of creative mobile food vendors. Of those, the Public Health and Human Services Com­mittee considered 10, whittled those down to seven, and has finally recommended six new requirements for final vote by the council: a monthly log of commissary use, notarized certification of commissary kitchen, proof of Texas sales and use tax permit, a posted itinerary for food trucks, written permission to use restrooms at work site, and a Fire Department inspection report. According to Simons, proof of product liability insurance (the seventh recommendation) was supported by the task force but ultimately rejected. Marti Bier, Council Member Randi Shade’s policy aide, says: “The proposals will be on the council docket in late September and can take effect 10 days after they pass. … They are pretty much a done deal.” Robert Garza, chief of staff for Council Member Mike Martinez – who’s been intimately involved with the mobile vendor issue – said, “Ultimately, this is not a comprehensive solution, and we’ll be addressing the issue again in the future.”

What started as a vendetta against fly-by-night illegal vendors cutting into Ramsey’s sales at construction sites has grown into a fairly big deal that has encompassed the entire galaxy of food vendors, including those selling food products at area farmers’ markets, and made Ramsey a whole new set of enemies. It’s shaken some current vendors but doesn’t seem to have scared off many newbies; new vendor chatter around town is hot and heavy, and my guess is that the projected mobile vendor numbers for 2011 will be soundly smashed. The health department will go from one inspector to three, and the Fire Department will add one inspector for vendors if the measures pass as expected. The big winners: the casual diners of Austin, who are offered an inexpensive and expanding cornucopia of creative eats, and the vendors, who are allowed to start small and dream big.

Commissary Kitchens

With more than 1,200 vendors in town and 1,650 estimated for this time next year, these few commissary kitchens are hardly enough to service that number. Even with most mobile vendors aligning with existing restaurants, the number of commissary-capable kitchens in town seems woefully inadequate to fulfill the new proposal.

The Kitchen Space: 692-9896, Adrienne, www.thekitchenspace.com

Just Add Chef: 431-1157, Herb Levy, www.justaddchef.com

2 Dine 4 Fine Catering (rents out some space): 467-6600, Stephen Shallcross, www.2dine4.com/index2.php

McGovern’s Organics GF/CF Delights (gluten-free): 983-3197

Manor Downs Kitchen: 632-3323, Miles Compton

There is an ongoing discussion/contact group on local commissary kitchens at Better Bites of Austin (aka Small Bites of Austin), where vendors and kitchens can make contact:www.smallbitesaustin.wordpress.com/007/05/02/commercial-kitchen-space.

Links for Hitching Up

Austin/Travis County Health and Human Services regulations page:

www.cityofaustin.org/health/eh_regulations.htm

Application for mobile food vendor permit: www.austintexas.gov/health/downloads/CH-TC_304_MFVPacket_10-07-08.pdf

“Starting a Food Business” – Austin/Travis County Health and Human Services Department: www.cityofaustin.org/sbdp/downloads/startfoodbus.pdf

“Tasty Tips” – Austin Small Business Development Program: www.cityofaustin.org/sbdp/downloads/2009_tastytips2.pdf

“Ice Cream, Hot Dogs, or Vegetables: Starting a Mobile Food Vendor Business” – Callaway Aimone’s primer for Texas C-BAR:www.texascbar.org/content/legal_library/economic/downloads/mobil_food_vendor.pdf

Copyright © 2013 Austin Chronicle Corporation. All rights reserved.

2013 eRaiser

Support Our First e-Raiser!

EGBI’s first online and social media fundraiser, April 16-May 16, 2013

By Al Lopez, April 17, 2013

 Last October, I wrote about why I support EGBI, hoping to stimulate some additional support for our organization.  Well, needless to say, I was pretty gratified by the results we experienced last fall.

Many of you who have come to know EGBI the last couple of years know that we re-launched the organization in 2011.  After a few years of a great partnership with the Housing Authority of the City of Austin and outstanding collaboration with the Greater Austin Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, we embarked on a strategy that would increase awareness of our efforts in order to expand our pool of clients, volunteers, and supporters.

In these two years, we have earnestly driven to expand awareness of our mission and increase the investment in our efforts.  We are thrilled to have attracted new investors who are supporting our work. We are most satisfied with the fact that the largest percentage of our clients comes from referrals from previous clients, and we have many clients who have become investors in EGBI.  Those of you who know our work also know that one of our objectives is to keep the price of our services as low as possible, while we continue to improve the quality and variety of services we provide (some of which are unique, like our ground-breaking Curso Empresarial bilingual training program).


In an effort to continue to broaden our outreach and diversify our supporters—folks who know about and are willing to invest in EGBI—we’re holding our first ever online and social media fundraiser over the next four weeks.  What we would like to do is have as many of our connections (and their connections) commit to a $25 donation to EGBI.  We, of course, have our annual year-end fundraiser – Celebrating Success. Adding an annual eRaiser every spring will allow us to target small donations from our connections, like you, with an appeal to share the opportunity with your respective associates.

So, vote for EGBI with a little bit of your wallet, then share the opportunity with your friends.  We’re hoping the increased awareness will expand our client and investor pool. A $25 donation may seem small, but when you recognize that $25 covers 50% of the cost of up to 12-weeks of training for a client, you see how even that small amount can make a big difference in an entrepreneur’s life.

So, please join in and help spread the word – we’ll announce the results of this effort at our EGBI Reunion on May 16th.

Sincerely,

Al Lopez


EGBI Executive Director

Click here to make a donation and please help us spread the word through your social media outlets!