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Asian professional group forges connections with SBA

Martin Desmarais
Asian professional group forges connections with SBA
(l-r) SBA Massachusetts District Director Robert Nelson and Eric Lam, president of the Boston Chapter of the National Association of Asian American Professionals, sign a strategic alliance between the two organizations on Oct. 4.

The Boston chapter of the National Association of Asian American Professionals has been supporting Asian businesses for almost three decades, but recently the group has increased its efforts to connect Asian businesses with the wider Boston business community. A new arrangement with the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Massachusetts District Office will facilitate that effort.

NAAAP Boston leaders and SBA Massachusetts District Director Robert Nelson signed a strategic alliance on Oct. 4 that will directly connect the Asian business group and its members to the services and support that the SBA offers to small businesses.

“We are very excited to form this strategic partnership with the SBA in promoting the leadership development of Asian American professionals in all fields,” said Eric Lam, president of NAAAP Boston, which has about 450 members. “Core to our mission in building leaders, NAAAP Boston will be able to help entrepreneurs in the Greater Boston area succeed through leveraging the resources and networks that SBA can offer.”

The mission of the NAAAP is to cultivate, support and promote Asian American professionals through professional development programs, community services engagements and industry connections. The NAAAP has 27 chapters throughout the United States and one in Toronto. The first chapter was formed in New York in 1982. Boston established the second chapter in 1986.

SBA District Director Nelson pointed out that the two groups are joined by a common mission — helping entrepreneurs to succeed and grow in Massachusetts. An official agreement between the two organizations allows both to work more closely to ensure that the interests of Asian American entrepreneurs are adequately attained.

The SBA, a U.S. federal government agency, works to maintain and strengthen the country’s economy by aiding, counseling, assisting and protecting the interests of small businesses. It has four main approaches to provide support for businesses: providing access to financing, entrepreneurial development, facilitating access to government contracts, and small business advocacy to Congress. The SBA also has a network of small business development centers throughout the country.

While the SBA’s services are offered without ethnic or racial consideration to any small business that seeks them out, Yan Yu, a spokeswoman for NAAAP Boston, said it was important for her group to solidify a close relationship with the SBA because Asian American businesses have traditionally not looked outside of their community for support.

Yu stressed that breaking this pattern is critical for the further success of the Asian American business community in Boston and in the United States. She believes the partnership with the SBA can help do that.

“By making our partnership with the SBA official it will open doors,” Yu said. “Many of our members didn’t really know what the SBA has to offer, so this gives them a connection and an easy way to go to them.

“Another thing we really want to do is develop the relationship with the government agencies because that is part of how we can have more influence,” Yan added. “Strategy-wise, we did not emphasize this development before but now, working with the SBA, I think that is the first step.”

SBA District Director Nelson said joining forces with NAAAP Boston is part of his agency’s efforts to expand their reach as well.

“We are a relatively small agency so the only way we can do what we do is through partnerships and relationships. One of the big things we have been trying to do this year is connect with underserved communities,” Nelson said. “We want to make sure there is equal access and opportunity.”

Nelson is particularly excited about connecting with the Asian American business community since the Asian American population is one of the fastest growing in the United States.

With a growing population of young entrepreneurs in the Asian American community, and increased government efforts to support the community, such as the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, there is a bright future for the NAAAP, he said

“All of this comes together and it makes perfect sense to sign an agreement with them,” Nelson said. “This just formalizes that this is something that is really important to the SBA, the economy and their community.”

In Massachusetts, the SBA’s effort to expand its reach to communities of color has resulted in an increase in loans through its programs to entrepreneurs of color. In that increase, Asian American businesses saw the highest jump with a 39 percent increase in the loans granted.

“We have really stepped it up this past year and it has actually turned into some key success,” Nelson added.

Like Yu, Nelson emphasized the value of a formal agreement between the SBA and NAAAP Boston.

“You don’t need one of these agreements for us to provide services, but what we find is that a lot of people don’t know what the SBA has in the toolbox to help — and these signings and agreements can help get the word out,” he said.

As NAAAP Boston turns its efforts to the Asian American business community’s growing number of young entrepreneurs, the group is counting on the new SBA initiative to deliver benefits.

On its own NAAAP Boston has increased its efforts to connect with the rising number of Asian American entrepreneurs. The group launched its Entrepreneurship Committee in 2011. This committee has steered a consistent schedule of workshops and events to support members starting and growing companies.

“Over the last five to 10 years entrepreneurship has become a very big thing in the Asian community. A lot of young entrepreneurs have chosen to start their own businesses,” said Yu. “We noticed the trend and we really want to capture this thing.”

This past weekend, the organization held its first-ever Asian Business Festival at Dewey Square in downtown Boston. The Oct. 12 event was attended by approximately 750 people, featured 30 vendors and was a day of celebration of Asian American entrepreneurship, with a focus on Asian-owned or Asian-focused businesses and nonprofit organizations.

Ian So, a member of the organizing committee for the event, said the NAAAP Boston hopes to hold the Asian Business Festival every year as a culmination of the continual efforts to support the Asian-American business community.

“The vendors found that it was a very valuable experience to them by generating new leads and exposure to their business. We will do this again next year, and we are excited to make it bigger and better,” So said.

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