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Boro program gives entrepreneurs a head start

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He just needs to know how to sell it.Seeking to expand his company, Guayasamin Foods, from his Ridgewood home and manage it with a savvier eye, Aguilar signed up for a 10-week business course. The Entrepreneur Assistance Program, offered by the Kew Gardens-based Queens Economic Development Corporation, helps aspiring small business owners craft a plan and learn the ropes for a future venture.Last Thursday Aguilar and 24 other students gathered inside a Jamaica cafe for their graduation ceremony. There Aguilar and his partner/cousin, Emilio, handed out samples of their ice cream with exotic flavors like Guanabana, Tree Tomato and Frutilla. Afterward, he stood up in front of his some 40 peers and mentors and made his pitch: "Whoever consumes this product will be excited about the flavor and low price."Asked later if he thought the 60-hour course helped, he said, "I already knew how to make ice cream. Now I know how to run the business."Aguilar hopes to move out of his house by the summer. He is not the only fledgling entrepreneur who showed a spurt of confidence that night.Allison Felix, another QEDC graduate, presented her CMCI Real Estate company for which she is seeking a $150,000 loan to relocate to a larger office, start a Web site, spread advertising and open a travel agency."It's all worth it," she said of starting a business. "I've seen sales double in one year."More than 800 Queens residents have graduated from the entrepreneurial program in the last 15 years, resulting in more than 350 new businesses and nearly 200 expanded ones, according the QEDC.This was the 15th graduating class and, according to QEDC Executive Director Spencer Ferdinand, so far the biggest. Some of the other companies being started by the 25 graduates include a massage parlor, modeling agency, record label and pet-sitting services."Celebrate the creation of a business card, a Web site, your first sale. Celebrate the completion of this course, many of you gave up a lot to be here," said Maggie Seymour, reading off a statement from Joyce Smith, director the state's Entrepreneurial Assistance Program, which give grants to 22 organizations like the QEDC to increase the business participation of minorities, women and disabled workers.Showing proof of the program's success, the cafe that hosted the graduation was started by two of its alumni in 2001. After serving them baked salmon, stir fry and garlic bread, the owners of Agape Blends Cafe and Caterers, Charlotte Worsley and Lorraine Fowles, had some simple advice for those graduates now at the entrepreneurial starting gate."You ready for the great adventure?" Worsley asked. "Get a lot of sleep then. You're going to need it."Reach reporter Zach Patberg at news@timesledger.com or at 718-229-0300, Ext. 155.

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