FUSE: Latino focus

Photos by Ron Leir More than 200 people attended BCC’s recent kickoff of its newly reconfigured FUSE business center program managed by Linda Caruso (r.) from her Lyndhurst campus office.
Photos by Ron Leir
More than 200 people attended BCC’s recent kickoff of its newly reconfigured FUSE business center program managed by Linda Caruso (r.) from her Lyndhurst campus office.


Bergen Community College is partnering with the N.J. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce to widen the scope of its FUSE business center program by including Latino entrepreneurs in the mix.

The FUSE business center (formerly Regional Accelerator at the Meadowlands) teams with the N.J. Small Business Development Center – both of which occupy space at BCCC’s Lyndhurst campus – to guide and support the region’s small business.

On June 1, about 250 repesentatives from the U.S. Small Business Administration, SBDC, FUSE, Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and small business owners attended a kickoff ceremony for the newly configured FUSE program in Lyndhurst.

At the event, attendees also were treated to an enlightening talk by guest speaker Ron Boger, president/COO of IdeaVillage Products Inc., a Wayne-based consumer direct marketing/consulting firm, about how the company operates.

Boger said the company was responsible for “delivering 10 blockbuster [retail] hits a year.” As examples of some of the more recent examples of “as-seen-on-TV” products which IdeaVillage has successfully marketed, Boger listed Smooth Away, Copper Fit, Microtouch One Razor and Snackeez.

Touching on the BCCC FUSE pairing with the state Hispanic C of C, Boger noted that one of every six Americans is Hispanic and, given that rate is continuing to grow, national brands spending shows “an almost 8 to 1 increase” in advertising geared to the Hispanic market, not to mention that Hispanic-owned businesses have accounted for a “43% growth since 2007.”

No question that Latino and Latina entrepreneurs are contributing to the retail fabric in the U.S., Hispanic Chamber Chairman Carlos Medina told the audience.

In fact, he maintained, without the robust participation of Hispanic businesses – and there have been 70,000 Hispanic business start-ups in New Jersey alone – the nation’s economy could not have claimed the initial stages of recovery that it has experienced since the 2008 recession.

For any new small businesses launching or those existing and now looking to survive, BCC’s FUSE program offers “mentoring, workshops, classes, Wi-Fi, meeting rooms and other support services,” including advice from “financial, legal and marketing experts,” all financed through membership fees starting at $99 per month.

BCC FUSE Manager Linda Caruso, who works with program coordinator Shirley Pashon, a native of Colombia, said the program currently operates with “between 12 and 20 offices spaces” for member businesses and is now looking to expand to accommodate the Hispanic sector.

With one-quarter of its 16,000 students registered as Hispanic, BCCC is classified in federal education circles as an HSI (Hispanic Serving Institution) and, as such, is eligible for various grant programs tailored to the needs of Hispanic students, noted college spokesman Larry Hlavenka Jr.

One such program is HSI STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Math) Graduation Pathway to Success, currently funded by the U.S. Dept. of Education for nearly $3.8 million for a 5-year period, through Sept. 30, 2016, for recruitment, improvement of graduation and transfer rates for STEM-enrolled students and adjusting program design to improve “student outcomes.”

Another project is Title V 123 Connect, funded for $2.9 million for five years through Sept. 30, 2015, to develop new curriculum and teaching approaches in English basic skills and basic math, coupled with mentoring and tutoring, to help students transition to BCC, meet academic requirements and pursue pathways to advanced degrees and careers.

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