The first Vietnamese small business center in U.S. opens in San Jose
Jim Chinh Nguyen, director of SBDC Vietnamese American discusses the center's resources. Photo courtesy SBDC.

For husband and wife Brian Ly and Minnie Uyen Thai, early February is a bustling time for their business, United Wholesale Flowers. But it wasn’t easy for the San Jose-based flower shop to get off the ground.

“Starting a business, at the beginning you need a lot of money to invest in your business,” Ly said. “More vans, more trucks, more inventory.”

But Ly launched his business with help from the Silicon Valley Small Business Development Center, which this week opened a center specifically to help Vietnamese entrepreneurs — the first office in the U.S. dedicated to serving Vietnamese-speaking business owners. The new office opened Feb. 3.

The center, called the the SBDC Vietnamese American Satellite, will offer resources in English and Vietnamese to help the Vietnamese business community navigate bureaucracy, new technologies and market expansion. The one-stop shop offers expert advice, low-cost workshops and small business training, among other services.

“For sure, if you speak the same language, you share some culture and understanding, it’s easier,” Ly said. “It’s more likely people will be more comfortable getting help.”

Jim Chinh Nguyen, who has been an advisor at SBDC for two years, will lead the new Vietnamese-focused SBDC in San Jose. Nguyen said the first Vietnamese center in America will help a variety of business owners, from start-ups getting off the ground to existing businesses looking to grow and expand throughout the city.

“One of the things that I think hurt the (Vietnamese) community is they came here as immigrants and they don’t know where to get help,” Nguyen said. “Also, many of those owners are getting old and want to transition the business to their children who are much more open.”

The office, which is located at 1887 Monterey Road, Floor 2, in San Jose, will initially focus on San Jose before expanding to help the Vietnamese community throughout Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties, as well as Alameda and Oakland. According to census data, San Jose has 139,000 Vietnamese residents, the most of any city outside of Vietnam.

More than half of the businesses in San Jose are owned by minorities and immigrants.

Vietnamese entrepreneurs can attend workshops and schedule one-on-one consultations on topics such as raising funds, business planning, loans, marketing and human resource management.

“The SBDC Viet-Am knows how mom and pop businesses work,” said Supervisor Dave Cortese. “I’m confident that this team will meet the needs of the thriving Vietnamese business community.”

Tina Tien has had the benefit of such training.

Tien has two San Jose restaurants, Sizzle Spot and Rong Bien. She went to culinary school in Vietnam and decided to follow her passion and open restaurants when she came to the United States. Her mam mam — a rice and meat dish — is so good that she said some customers say it’s the only version of the dish their children will ask for.

But when she first started the journey to open a restaurant, she needed help from the SBDC. Luckily, she was fluent in English.

“A lot of Vietnamese moms and dads, they’d love to start a business, but they don’t know how to talk or write [in English],” Tien said. “I’m sure this can help a lot of people in community. That’s what I see. The first couple of years, it was really hard. I know a lot of small businesses are really suffering. I think this service can help.” 

For more information, visit facebook.com/SBDCVietnameseAmerican or call the the SBDC Vietnam office at (408) 385-9800. 

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