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LI entrepreneurs vie for $250G Chase grant, Google training

Stace and Flemming Hansen of Copenhagen Bakery in

Stace and Flemming Hansen of Copenhagen Bakery in Northport want to win a Chase grant to pay off renovation debt. (Oct. 30, 2013) Credit: Newsday / Audrey C. Tiernan

Balancing the challenges of expansion can be a tricky endeavor for small businesses, requiring often hard-to-access credit, a realistic plan and a lot of creativity.

So a number of Long Island entrepreneurs have decided to make their pitch to win $250,000 and training at Google's California headquarters -- the prizes that will go to 12 winners of JPMorgan Chase's Mission Main Street Grants competition.

"This is an opportunity I can't pass up, because it's going to change my life," said Stacé Hansen, who, with her husband, Flemming, owns Copenhagen Bakery in Northport. "I want to be on that plane."

Copenhagen, which recently underwent a major expansion, is among thousands of small businesses across the country soliciting votes on Chase's Mission Main Street website, including about 2,400 in New York State alone.

Tracy Jordan, owner of Invited Sales by Tracy Jordan, said she also leaped at the opportunity, envisioning funds to possibly add another store and hire more workers for her Garden City estate liquidation business, which runs estate sales, tag sales, online and live auctions and a consignment shop.

Both businesses have the 250 votes required to be considered for the grants, but they're hoping more people will vote by the Friday deadline to make their applications stand out.

Focus on growth

The competition, in its second year, is aimed at addressing some of the top challenges small companies face, such as maintaining a healthy cash flow to pay expenses while growing and finding new customers, said Donna Vieira, senior vice president of Chase business banking. Google is a lead sponsor, supplying training and Google Chromebook laptops to the winners, who will be named in January.

"It's all about growth," Vieira said, "whether it's reinvesting in a business, adding a product line or adding a location."

The 12 judges will be looking for realistic growth plans and evidence of companies' impact on their local communities. Creativity and passion count too, Vieira said.

Many small and mid-size companies are in weaker financial shape than they were before the recession, and banks aren't loaning as much or as quickly, said Thomas Shinick, CEO of Corporate Development Partners in Merrick and an Adelphi University business professor.

"Many small businesses today are not taking in as much as they need to pay existing expenses, and they can't expand," he said. With the grant money, companies could add products, advertise and hire more staff to fill orders or make sales, he said.

For Copenhagen, the money would help pay down the debt it took on to finance its more than $250,000 expansion project, said Stacé Hansen. The 15-year-old business added 1,000 square feet for indoor seating as well as a new hot breakfast menu to its selection of breads, soups, sandwiches and pastries. The Hansens also purchased a computer system to track sales and manage inventory.

Eye on updates, health costs

The grant could also cover costs to update the bakery's aging ovens and display cases, pay some health care costs for its 33 employees, help ramp up its catering business and fund a large generator -- a necessity, the Hansens realized after superstorm Sandy, when Copenhagen became a gathering spot as one of the few places in town with power.

Like the bakery, Jordan's 9-year-old business has expanded over the years. But an influx of cash could boost growth more quickly, she said.

Invited Sales specializes in emptying houses following the death of the owner or a decision to downsize. Jordan helps clients identify items that can be sold through tag sales, estate sales, online and live auctions and her consignment shop. She arranges for other items to be donated, and she has helped charities aiding Sandy victims by furnishing rebuilt homes for little or no cost, she said.

There's no lack of business, so money from the grant would help her "hire employees to get more inventory and turn houses quicker," Jordan said.

"I would definitely try to expand the space I have or try to open another store in another area," she said, "because there's plenty of inventory to go around."

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