David Truong looks like a young executive. Nattily attired in a tie and dress shirt, sleeves rolled up to his elbows and reclining in a leather chair, he may as well be evaluating some company for future investment.
In fact, he is. Only his surroundings hint at his nontraditional path to starting his own business.
Truong was born in Vietnam and came to America with his family when he was 5 years old. He went to St. Cloud Apollo High School, graduating in 2000, then found himself searching for a future.
"I was going to have to earn my way up -- nothing was ever given to me," said Truong, 30.
He worked in several entry-level assembly jobs, at Woodcraft and Electrolux. Then, in 2003, he visited an aunt in Georgia. She ran a nail salon, and Truong first got his indoctrination into a business he said is one many Asian people pursue in the United States.
"At first, I hated it, and I felt pressure by my parents," Truong said. "They were like, 'You know, this can be a good, steady business to go into for you.' Many people in our family have done this. Eventually, I realized there was some value in it. I like to make people look good. And if they look good, they feel good. That helped me develop a passion for it."
He went to cosmetology school in Minneapolis then served as manager of a nail salon in St. Cloud. But he wanted to be his own boss. He studied business at St. Cloud Technical & Community College in preparation for launching his own operation.
That helped, but it wasn't enough to make it happen. That's where the Central Minnesota Small Business Development Center (CMSBDC) came in and connected Truong with some microlending possibilities.
About six months later, with financial support from the Southwest Initiative Foundation, Truong opened Ultra Spa Nails in December in a strip mall at 2301 West Division St.
"I'm the type of guy who is dedicated and going to make something happen somehow," said Truong, who has four employees in his 1,300-square-foot salon. "But getting this help allowed me to do something earlier rather than later. My business took off like a rocket, so now I'm already trying to look five years down the road about what I want to do next."
Some entrepreneurs find themselves with a good idea and a sound business plan. But many -- and especially for many immigrants or minorities -- they have little capital. As a result, it's hard to find a lender who is willing to work with them on a comparatively small loan.
Microlending is making very small loans to borrowers who lack collateral and don't have much of a credit history. It is perhaps more prevalent in developing countries and economies, but it has a place here, too, according to Barry Kirchoff, director of the CMSBDC -- which has offices in the St. Cloud State University Welcome Center at 355 Fifth Ave. S.
"It's tough to get small business loans through banks," Kirchoff said. "We work to connect individuals like David with consultants who can help them launch their business and connect them to sources of potential microloans."
In Truong's case, that consultant was Bruce Thielman, who has 20 years of experience in the banking industry. Thielman helped him through a business readiness assessment. Even though Truong had managed a nail salon before, how was he going to do things different? And if those differences translated into different expenses, how was he going to develop a plan to pay for them?
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