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Saturday, November 10, 2012

Annandale nonprofit offers business start-up assistance

Left to right: Mary Eure and James Do, both with the SkillSource Center, and BDAG President Toa Do, in BDAG's new office in Annandale.

Many people out of work or stuck in a boring or dead-end job dream of owning their own business. But how to start?

The Business Development Assistance Group (BDAG) can help. The Annandale-based nonprofit organization provides free assistance to help people with ideas for start-ups through one-on-one counseling, entrepreneurship training in collaboration with Northern Virginia Community College, and other assistance.

Fairfax County provides office space for BDAG in the Heritage Center, 7911 Little River Turnpike. The organization moved there in August when the county health and social services from Leesburg Pike in Seven Corners in August to the Heritage Center, 7911 Little River Turnpike, along with Fairfax County health and social services departments that relocated to that complex.

“If someone has been fixing air conditioners for 20 years and now wants to run their own business, this is where they go,” says BDAG President Toa Do.

The SkillSource Center in Annandale.
“Very few agencies do what BDAG does,” Do says. “Most agencies help people who already have a business. We talk people through their business idea—or in some cases, many ideas.” BDAG helps people understand a business plan, the financing, legal structure, and how to attract customers.

Between July 2010 and June 2011, BDAG served 1,1158 clients, supported the creation or retention of 58 jobs (81 percent of them new jobs), and assisted 52 businesses. Of the 32 businesses, the organization helped create, 17 percent are cleaning services, 13 percent are home-based child care, 20 percent are business services, 13 percent are trade-related. The rest are mix of other types of businesses.

BDAG is aimed at lower-income people and minorities looking to improve their economic situations, and about 70 to 80 percent of its clients are from those groups. But BDAG also helps higher-income people, too, Do says, because “they sometimes come back and create jobs, and we supply the people.”

Many people have unrealistic expectations. For example, if someone comes in with the idea of opening a gas station, Do will ask, “have you ever run a gas station before? Do you have any money?” If a person says no, and can’t wait for five or six months to get financing, it’s probably not going to work out.

More than half of the people who come abandon their ideas when they realize what it takes, and another 40 percent drop out when they realize it’s hard to get credit and they will need significant start-up money.

If people survive those hurdles, the last step is developing a marketing plan. BDAG helps clients figure out who will be the first clients—it’s usually someone they know—and put together a website and marketing materials.

Do works closely with the SkillSource Center, which has an office at the Heritage Center next door to BDAG. SkillSource, a county employment agency, hosts job fairs, helps people write resumes and practice for interviews, provides office space with computers and internet access for job seekers, and provides free computer training to veterans through the Microsoft Elevate America program. For more information, contact James Do, 703/533-5471.

For Do, creating BDAG was a way to give back. After immigrating to the United States from Vietnam as one of the “boat people,” he eventually started a successful business installing cable connections in office buildings.

During the Vietnam War, Do worked for the Americans and, for that was thrown into prison for two years. After the war, he escaped on a 30-foot boat packed with 64 people. They were attacked by Thai pirates four times. The pirates, armed with hammers, beat and robbed the refugees, even taking the gold teeth from an elderly man.

It took four days to reach a refugee camp in Thailand. Do eventually made it to the United States but it took him eight years to bring his wife and two young sons here. Do now uses his expertise as a successful entrepreneur to help others follow the American dream.


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