Business without Borders

Comments (1) Posted By Joe on April 26, 2010 in Meet the Staff

Finished your business plan? Talk to Sharifa Dunn, the Intersect Fund's Graduate Services director.

Sharifa Dunn helps our business course graduates apply for microloans.

So, you’ve finished the Intersect Fund’s Build Your Business course and written your business plan. Now what?

You talk to Sharifa Dunn.

Dunn, our Graduate Services director, will show you the next steps toward starting and growing your business. She will help you apply for a microloan, sign up for coaching sessions, and connect you with our graphic designers.

Dunn’s passion for helping entrepreneurs comes from an acquaintance she made half a world away.

In the winter of 2008, she studied at South Africa’s University of Kwazulu-Natal. The campus sits in the small city of Pietermaritzburg, which Dunn says resembles New Brunswick: it’s a mid-sized city filled with people from varied ethnic and social backgrounds.

But Kwazulu-Natal students, like their Rutgers counterparts, rarely venture far off campus.

One day, Sharifa decided to buck this trend and did some exploring. Off the edge of campus, she met a craftsman and his family. Working from a blanket on the sidewalk, they used thin wire and colorful beads to make small key chains shaped as animals and letters.

The man, his wife and their infant son spent long hours out on the blanket. Dunn noticed they were often out from sunrise until sunset, braving cold rain and sweltering heat.

Their dedication — almost certainly borne of necessity — inspired Dunn. The craftsman honed his skill, made something people wanted, and doggedly pursued success.

She noticed a degree of resourcefulness there that she also recognizes in clients here in New Jersey. It’s entrepreneurs like these — with enthusiasm and the talent to back it up — whom Dunn wants to help.

This summer, Dunn will finish her yearlong stint with the Intersect Fund. She will graduate Rutgers with a degree in Finance and then begin a job with the JP Morgan Chase Co.’s transactional banking division in New York.

A Cause Worth Fighting for

Comments (1) Posted By Joe on April 23, 2010 in Meet the Staff
Ragavan Sree

A reporter interviews Intersect Fund trainer and CFO Ragavan Sree

At the Intersect Fund, Ragavan Sree teaches clients to write business plans and helps manage our finances.

He arrived on staff in the fall of 2008 with a mission: improve society by making sure everyone gets the same opportunity for economic advancement.

Inequality, Sree says, is what plunged his native Sri Lanka into a decades-long civil war that killed thousands.

When the country gained independence from British colonial rule following World War II, the outlook for the Tamil — the ethnic minority whom colonial officials had favored— grew bleak.

For years, the Tamil were denied access to jobs and education. Discrimination dashed young adults’ hopes of achieving the economic security their parents enjoyed.

Years of marginalization, Sree says, pushed some Tamil to form a rebel army — known as the Tamil Tigers — that fought the government for over 20 years.

Sree spent his childhood in Singapore and New York City — away from the stark disparity of his home country.

When he returned for a United Nations internship in 2005, he was surprised to see the government and the rebels working together. The Indian Ocean Tsunami, which pummeled the country several months prior, had left in its wake an inspiring — albeit temporary — sense of unity.

Sree found the cooperation heartening, but he regretted that it took a natural disaster for the warring factions to put aside their differences.

Viewing prosperity as a safeguard against the strife that ravaged Sri Lanka, Sree vowed to fight for economic opportunity. The Intersect Fund gave him the chance to do it.

A Rutgers senior, Sree will join the U.S. Army after he graduates. In July, he will travel to Fort Benning, Ga. for training as a specialist infantryman.

Serving a City on the Move

Comments (1) Posted By Joe on April 19, 2010 in Meet the Staff
Megan Faust

Megan Faust, a Rutgers Business School Marketing major, helps Intersect Fund clients increase their sales.

Ask most Rutgers students about their first New Brunswick memories, and you’ll likely hear stories about Grease Trucks and late buses.

But Megan Faust’s Hub City recollections date back a bit further. A New Brunswick native, she remembers softball games at the old high school and picnics at her father’s family home on Joyce Kilmer Avenue.

Now, as Faust completes a Rutgers Business School bachelors’ degree, she flexes her marketing muscle at the Intersect Fund. Her job is to help clients increase sales and find new customers.

This means finding events — such as craft fairs and community markets — where business owners can set up shop. Faust also helps clients navigate the world of Internet sales.

In December, Faust recruited clients for the Intersect Fund’s annual Holiday Bazaar & Gala, held at New Brunswick’s Hyatt Regency Hotel. She helped them pick which products to sell, advised them about arranging their display tables and coached them on how to make and keep customer contacts.

That night, Bazaar vendors netted over $2,500 in sales.

“It is so inspiring to see people who are willing to work very hard to improve their and their family’s lives, and to be able to do what they love,” Faust says.

Faust has a long history of serving the region she calls home. Before joining the Intersect Fund, she worked for New Brunswick’s Rent Control Board. She then joined the city’s economic development office, where she signed business owners up for a state program that halved their sales tax rate.

Faust sees New Brunswick as a city on the move, becoming more vibrant as new people arrive and settle in. It’s a dynamic that she wants to be part of.

And her business focus is no accident: Faust plans to open a clothing store in the near future.