Helping Community Businesses Survive COVID-19

“Give Back While Learning About the Vicissitudes of Entrepreneurship” read the invite to an unusual mentorship event on Tuesday, Dec. 22, 2020, hosted by the Shevet Glaubach Center, the Sy Syms School of Business, the YU Office of Government Relations and the Uptown—West Bronx Vanguard.

The latter is a group organized by U.S. Rep. Adriano Espaillat, congressman for the district including Washington Heights and Inwood, to develop a community response to the COVID crisis within his district in areas of mental health, public health and small business and nonprofit development. Read more»

Jonah Loskove ’22SB, who is majoring in finance and minoring in English literature, decided to heed the call, and for the last several months, he worked so diligently to help small businesses located in the district apply successfully for the latest round of funding for the federal Paycheck Protection Program, or PPP, that he received a special commendation from Rep. Espaillat for his efforts.

 

Certificate of appreciation for Jonan Loskove

 

YU News managed to catch up with Loskove to talk about his background, what motivated him to do this work and what he learned about himself and the community.


A little bit about you: what’s your background and hometown?

I am from Woodmere, New York. I went to DRS Yeshiva High School and then studied at Yeshivat Hakotel in Israel as a part of the S. Daniel Abraham Israel Program. I am now in my fourth semester at Sy Syms.

Can you tell us a little about the Uptown—West Bronx Vanguard?

The Uptown—West Bronx Vanguard is a volunteer organization initiated by Rep. Adriano Espaillat’s office during the pandemic. The organization’s Small Business and Economic Development Committee is led by Benny Lorenzo of B.L. Capital Partners, L.P. with the help of the Washington Heights Chamber of Commerce.

The goal of the organization is to help small businesses in the congressman’s district in several ways since many of them have been struggling since the start of the pandemic. Since January, the organization has focused on reaching out to small businesses to inform them about the potential availability of Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans and, for eligible businesses, helping them successfully navigate through the application process.

A PPP loan can be a huge benefit for a business because it can convert into a grant from the Small Business Administration if a business owner uses at least 60% of the loan for payroll costs. If the loan is used correctly, it can be free money for a struggling business. During this challenging year, that can prove to be a huge benefit.

What got you interested in participating?

Initially, I saw an email about the new program that was offering the chance to help small business owners of Washington Heights, Harlem, and the Bronx survive the pandemic. The information session was led by Mr. Lorenzo, who described the program and the important work the volunteers would be asked to do. He also explained that the Uptown—West Bronx Vanguard would be targeting the approximately 20,000 businesses most at risk of not learning about the PPP loan program, with a goal of contacting 4,000 of those entities.

By the end of the information session, I was committed to helping the local businesses and the community.

How many businesses did you ultimately reach out to?

I started my outreach in January. At first, I thought I would possibly reach out to several dozen businesses. Once I started making calls and speaking to the business owners, however, it was obvious that we were providing an important service.

The business owners were incredibly thankful that we were reaching out to them. There was one business owner who literally started to cry when I called her and explained about the PPP loan program. She told me that she has made no money during the pandemic and we were the first organization to call and see if she needed any help. We soon helped her apply for a PPP loan.

In total, I ended up reaching out to approximately 700 business owners. The entire volunteer group reached out to approximately 5,000 businesses and nonprofits, one thousand more than the goal we had set for ourselves, and we were directly responsible for helping them apply for over $500,000 in loans and indirectly for over $1,000,000.

How did the process work?

In two steps. The first step was contacting business owners to determine whether they were interested in applying for a PPP loan and whether the business could meet the requirements. I worked from a list provided by Mr. Lorenzo and the Washington Heights Chamber of Commerce.

Once a business expressed an interest in applying, Mr. Lorenzo would work with the business owner to complete the application process.

I must mention that this entire program would not have succeeded without Mr. Lorenzo’s leadership and inspiration. Because of his hard work and dedication, countless business owners would have never learned of the millions of dollars available to them. Mr. Lorenzo’s commitment to the community is truly inspirational. He would literally spend entire days volunteering to help make the community stronger.

How would you describe the economic situation of the businesses with whom you worked?

Many of the businesses I worked with were greatly impacted by the pandemic and were struggling to survive. Some businesses had been closed since the start of the pandemic. Others had remained open but had lost over 70% of their revenue. These were exactly the types of businesses the Small Business Administration wanted to apply for PPP loans, but, without our assistance, so many of them would have never known to apply.

What is something you learned in this process?

I learned that so many people are struggling and that they are so grateful to anyone who reaches out to offer assistance. The assistance can be nothing more than knowledge by making the person aware of a government loan program. That knowledge can be invaluable and can literally save a business and its employees.

I also learned that, even at a young age, there are opportunities available to combine my interest in finance with my passion for community service, allowing me to help the community in an interesting and rewarding way.

What are the next steps for the Uptown—West Bronx Vanguard?

I believe that the Uptown—West Bronx Vanguard plans to pivot from PPP loan assistance to mentoring and tutoring businesses on important topics, such as developing business plans and implementing growth strategies. There may hopefully also be opportunities to provide the business owners with financial literacy resources and to connect the owners with incubators to help the owners realize their individual visions. I hope to stay involved in the future.

As I mentioned before, I would like to thank Mr. Lorenzo for his leadership and dedication to the program. I would also like to thank Michael Strauss, associate dean at Sy Syms, for encouraging YU students to participate in this important program. I found it to be an incredibly rewarding experience.