• April 2012

NOVAGATE: Growing America Through Entrepreneurship

Helping people realize their dream

By Toa Do
President, NOVAGATE

When I arrived in the United States as a refugee in 1980, all I had was the dream to create a safe and prosperous new life for my wife and two young sons left behind in Vietnam. They were not able to join me until nearly eight years later, but by 1991 we were able to realize our American dream of starting our own business.

In 1993, an Arlington County official asked if I would be willing to help other new Americans to start businesses, George Mason University offered to donate office space, and the Business Development Assistance Group (BDAG) was born.

BDAG’s mission is to promote economic self-sufficiency through entrepreneurship development, and education, with an emphasis on new Americans, language minority and low-income populations. Our vision is for all people to have equal access to economic opportunity, and our services are designed to do just that.

Since 1993, BDAG has provided free or low-cost services to thousands of aspiring entrepreneurs throughout Northern Virginia through one-on-one counseling, mentoring, workshops, and networking events.

Ongoing programs include:

  • Project NOVAGATE, a partnership with Northern Virginia Community College, the Skill Source Group, and Fairfax County to help dislocated older workers explore starting their own business as a viable alternative to traditional employment (www.mynovagate.org)

  • Self-sufficiency programs in Fairfax and Arlington counties, to provide free counseling and assistance to low-income entrepreneurs
  • The annual Access to Success conference, linking small businesses with timely opportunities and information. This year’s conference focused on expanding exports to Korea (http://www.vaexport2011.com/).
  • The annual Mega Job Fair and Entrepreneurship Expo provides employment and start-up business opportunities and resources to the thousands of job seekers and emerging entrepreneurs who attend the event (www.fairfaxmegajobfair.com)

Here’s an example of our success:

Juan Botero was a student at George Mason University when he first came to BDAG for assistance. With our help, Juan and his partner, Lina Almansa, launched a design studio—D’Blend—in 2006. Since opening their doors, they’ve worked on a number of design and communication initiatives in the educational, nonprofit, and business sectors.

Their key to success comes from their combined backgrounds in business communications, design, and digital media, adding depth and strength to their creative exploration.

As an interdisciplinary design and communications studio, they foster design thinking and sustainability.

Whether it’s a conference, an event, a branding campaign, or video production, their approach is to collaborate closely with clients to tell their stories through visual media.

They believe design is a universal language that can be translated across communication channels, and can make complex subjects simple, clear, and easy to understand. At D’Blend, they aim to make this statement true by creating rich and engaging messages.

Marrianne Moskowitz Henle can’t decide whether to call herself a pastry chef or a confectioner. One thing’s for sure; she creates tasty treats worthy of either title. After graduating with honors from L’Academie de Cuisine’s Pastry Arts program in 2000, she continued perfecting her craft part-time while working full-time in marketing at a large law firm in Washington, DC.

In 2008, she left the firm, and with BDAG’s assistance began formulating plans to start her own pastry business. While exhibiting her cookies and gingerbread houses at a holiday craft fair in Herndon last year, Henle met Wendy Martin (aka “Tinker”). Martin sprinkled Henle with fairy dust and months later handed her the magic Tinker’s Toffee™ wand (which also doubles as a cooking spoon).

That’s how delicious Tinker’s Toffee™ became part of Sugarland Run Pastries. Currently living in Herndon, Henle grew up in Great Falls, Virginia, and has many friends and family ties throughout Loudoun County.

If you are interested in helping us, please consider:

• We are always looking for opportunities to work with public and private agencies as partners or sponsors, for specific events, workshops, or for general office operations. Please contact us and we can talk about your interest.

• We often use volunteer trainers or mentors in a wide range of fields: business, law, small business owners, marketing, finance, and many other areas. We’d love to share your expertise with our clients!

For more information, contact:

The Business Development Assistance Group
6245 Leesburg Pike, Suite 410
Falls Church, VA 22044
703-538-7412
www.bdag.org
Email Milagros Victoria at: mvictoria@bdag.org

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