Raquel was born and raised in the Bronx. For many years, she worked in college and university student programming during the day, and in her free time she prepared and sold homemade desserts in her community.
More than 700 miles away in North Carolina, Sandra grew up spending lots of time in the kitchen with her grandmother, learning her recipes while helping prepare family meals. Years later and after becoming a mother, she moved to Staten Island with a dream of turning her passion for baking into her very own family business.
What do these women have in common, beyond their love of baking?
They are residents of the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA), whose network of public housing is home to more than 600,000 New Yorkers—a population nearly the size of Boston. Many of its residents have interest in becoming entrepreneurs, but face barriers to starting up. In 2013, NYCHA's Office of Resident Economic Empowerment and Stability conducted a survey revealing that education, access to capital, and affordable space were the main obstacles preventing aspiring entrepreneurs from pursuing their businesses.
Launched in 2015, Food Business Pathways is a free business training program that connects NYCHA public housing residents with the training and resources needed to operate their own food business. With catalytic funding from Citi Community Development and led by the NYC Department of Small Business Services, the program provides NYCHA residents with access to the resources they themselves identified as critical to their success—a 10-week intensive food business course, free food handler's licensing and business incorporation, group and 1-on-1 business coaching and the opportunity to compete for incubator space.
Since its start, Food Business Pathways has helped 202 graduates—90 percent of them women—to create 132 businesses. Raquel and Sandra are two of those graduates, and since completing the program have formalized their businesses and gained access to incubator space in Harlem. Now, Raquel's business—Sweet Milk & Sugar Desserts—and Sandra's business—Grace Kelli Cupcakes—are booming.
By investing in Food Business Pathways, Citi Community Development aims to harness the entrepreneurial spirit and creativity of this great city and help New Yorkers across the five boroughs start and grow their businesses. The program is part of Citi's mission to enable economic growth and progress, and is an example of what can be achieved by connecting enterprising residents with strong public-private partnerships.
This year, Raquel and Sandra once again are accessing new opportunities through the program and Citi's support. Both women featured their baked goods at Citi events as part of Harlem Eat Up!. Citi is in its fourth year as the Founding Partner of the Harlem EatUp! Festival, which was started in 2015 by Marcus Samuelsson to celebrate the small businesses who have fueled Harlem's progress and its culinary richness. By participating in this year's events, Raquel and Sandra have the opportunity to expand their networks and continue to boost their businesses.
As a lifetime New Yorker and the mother of four daughters, I am so proud to see the depth and breadth of support that Citi has provided Raquel, Sandra and many other women. Together, we are making this city a more inclusive place for our residents and entrepreneurs.
Raquel (left) participating in a Citigold client event during the Harlem Eat Up! Festival. Sandra (right) now operates Grace Kelli Cupcakes in NYC.