American Express is putting on a huge event for small business owners to make connections, grow their businesses, and so much more, right here in New York City.
On July 20, American Express will host its 10th installation of Business Class LIVE event for the 10th year and for the first time at the Javits Center. The event is hosted to provide resources for small business owners through in-person panels, workshops, and networking opportunities, and it’s completely free for participating business owners.
“American Express has a long legacy of supporting small businesses – we have relationships with so many of them and can truly understand what they need to have more good days, but more importantly, what they need to navigate the more challenging days,” said Clayton Ruebensaal, EVP Global B2B Marketing at American Express.
Data from Kabbage, an American Express company, showed that 81% of small business owners expressed varying levels of concern about workplace wellness, while 74% of small business owners expressed varying levels of concern about needing to future-proof their business. As the cost of supplies continues to rise, many business owners find themselves where they have to manage cash flow, with 40% feeling the need to have more cash management tools and tips. American Express wants to give these business owners the tools they need to succeed.
Small businesses from around the country, including many from New York City, will be participating in this year’s event. Among them are Samantha Sinclair, owner of Pathway to Purpose; Christa Lynch, owner of Brooklyn Braised; and Mandi Masden, owner of Apostrophe Puzzles.
Pathway to Purpose is an education innovation company dedicated to empowering students, parents, and teachers. The business launched in 2016 with the goal to bring students access to information about college prep that Sinclair had trouble finding herself as a teenager.
“For the last 5 years, we’ve been able to work across 24 school districts. We’ve hosted over 1,000 student parent and staff workshops and we‘ve had 156 college trips across the nation. Then we hosted 48 special events which have impacted 11,600+ students,” said Sinclair. “Honestly, at this point, we have such a big goal and I am excited at the direction that Pathway to Purpose is going in. Because the truth is, whether a student decides to go to college or not, we want to make sure they have the information to make an informed college decision.”
Brooklyn Braised is an event production and farm-to-table catering company that launched in 2017 with the goal of giving back to the community’s most vulnerable residents through hunger relief initiatives and equitable hiring practices. Lynch says she tries to hire women and women of color as much as she can and sources ingredients from local Black and Brown-owned vendors.
“At the time I lived in Bedford-Stuyvesant, which I would say is a community that has seen a lot of differences in demographics of people who were moving into the neighborhood and a lot of working professionals. Many people in my community kept saying that there are no healthy options for when [they] get home from work,” said Lynch. “After about 10 or 9 months, I realized that the profit margin for that is really really low unless you have 100s and 100s of clients, so we transitioned immediately over to catering within 11 months.”
Apostrophe Puzzles was officially founded in 2019. Masden, who also has a career in acting, is an avid puzzler who noticed how the puzzle industry is lacking diversity. The company partners with artists to create the puzzles, and the artists receive 12% of every purchase and 1% goes to local nonprofits. The puzzles not only sell online but in major museums across the country.
“We make curated jigsaw puzzles that celebrate the work of contemporary artists of color. Through our puzzles and collaborations with our artists, we’re trying to make fine art more accessible, more inclusive and more sustainable for people,” said Masden.
As small business owners, Sinclair, Lynch and Masden have all faced their fair share of issues. They each had to make pivots to their businesses as a result of the pandemic and had to adapt to a new way of doing things. For example, as an education-focused business, Pathway to Purpose found that college prep was put on the backburner for a lot of families (rightfully so, says Sinclair) and safety became the number one priority. They lost a number of contracts and the revenue for the company began to dry up. After some time, Pathway to purpose adapted to the at-home learning opportunities with the launch of college prep flashcards and is creating a pod for college prep courses.
“We decided as a team that we will remain strong and [show our clients] how can make sure that our partners and people that we said yes to partner with that are school leaders are insuring that despite all the challenges, we were focused on the solutions and not the problems,” said Sinclair. “So I looked at, what are some of the problems that students face when they get to college, what are some of the challenges they face throughout college and some of the issues they face when it comes to retention and we’re solving for that right now. The pod is going to allow them to access information in advance.”
Brooklyn Braised mostly had corporate accounts for their business, so when the pandemic came around, the business took a huge hit. Not to be discouraged, Lynch took that situation and really leaned into the philanthropic branch of the business by partnering with local restaurants to feed some of New York City’s families that need help.
“The demographic always is the working poor, we’re saving feeding the homeless for other people. We try and elevate people who are already working and certain kinds of families. With this project, we were reaching out to women-led households,” said Lynch. “I didn’t know as much as I know now, I put up $35,000 of my own money to get this done. Now I have learned how to partner with people like Goldman Sachs and the Brooklyn Nets who will assist me with this venture. That was the beginning of philanthropic work.”
Apostrophe Puzzles had trouble just getting started. The business lost the manufacturer right off the bat when COVID-19 shut things down in 2020, but once the company had their first round of products, they hit the ground running. That being said, Masden says that securing the funding they need and running the business while also maintaining a career in acting is challenging.
“Being a solo entrepreneur is really challenging because I do double my career. It’s been a lot to balance not just work/life balance but work/work/life balance because it’s two careers happening,” said Masden. “It’s been a lot to stay on top of the shipping, the correspondence, the wholesale account, the direct-to-consumer accounts, social media, the troubleshooting, the backend — it’s been a lot to juggle.”
All three women had been connected to American Express previously, whether through receiving grants or having worked with them in the past, and had heard about Business Class LIVE. Though these businesses are very different, all three owners are excited for what they will be able to learn at Business Class LIVE.
“I’m really excited to attend and learn all that they have to teach me. I don’t have a traditional background in business, I come from an actor background,” said Masden. “Sometimes I feel like I’m flying by the seat of my pants a bit in the business aspect of it, so I’m always looking for opportunities to learn more and take advantage of the resources and networking opportunities and classes they are offering to broaden my skill set.
“It means the world because as a small business owner, you’re responsible for so many different moving parts. At this point, Pathway to Purpose is scaling and growing, there’s so many things that come with that. Most importantly, we are prioritizing during our weekly meetings is the wellness of our team,” said Sinclair. “I’m excited to be able to go and take advantage of so many resources because I consider it my complete responsibility to have systems in place and make sure our team isn’t just focused on our goal as a company, but their own personal goals and wellness. I’m excited to have all of that information in one place that would allow me to bring it back to my team and grow and thrive.”
“For me, it’s an amazing networking opportunity. I am so thankful for my time with the whole business and doing day to day, week to week, month to month, I don’t give myself an opportunity to really network,” said Lynch. “One of the things I’m looking forward to is not just networking but the topics hit during that time, like how to cater to your team, finances are a huge part of growth, how to scale your business. It’s not just about meeting in a room and talking, there’s education around this as well that I know is going to be extremely valuable to myself and others as well.”
Also, the convenience of having the event right here in New York City is a huge draw for all three business owners.
“I’ve been doing trade shows since last summer, they can be very expensive. To be able to take advantage of something so close that has so many opportunities for connection, engagement and education, it’s fantastic,” said Masden. “The fact that there’s no barrier to entry, there’s no ridiculously high fee to come and they’re not charging, they’re saying ‘We have these resources and information, we want you to come and learn about them to grow your business, to make it a more equitable marketplace,’ I think that’s generous and incredible. We’re glad and super lucky to live in New York in that aspect.”
The event will take place from 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., and a virtual live stream experience is also available as an option. To register for Business Class LIVE, visit amex.co/registernow.