In Ani’s words…
I was born in a refugee camp in Thailand as a result of the Cambodian genocide in the late 1970s. Lowell became our new home around 1983. Since I was younger, I’ve always drempt of owning a boutique because I loved clothes, styling and meeting new people. Working in retail my whole life, I then became a manager of the cutest boutique in our area, Humanity. When the opportunity came to take it over, I thought long and hard about it. Sure, it would mean my dreams were coming true, but I had no educational background in business nor the financial backing. One thing I kept thinking about was, “in ten years, if someone asked me what is the one thing I regret – it would be not taking over Humanity. I knew that I had to take a leap of faith and just go for my dreams.”
Any small business owner in Downtown Lowell will tell you it isn’t always sunshine and rainbows. And there were so many times I thought I would have to close up for reasons outside of my control. Throughout all the challenges, I knew that if I kept thinking outside the box, bring in new exciting products, collaborate on projects and be involved in the community – that however the business turns out to be, I will have succeeded in knowing that I gave it my entire all. Humanity is now strictly online and a pop-up shop (when its safe to do again).
Now 7 years later, I am transitioning into my new role as the STAT Program Coordinator at The ECenter @CTI. From a small business owner wanting to develop and enrich my community, I am now able to give back in a different way. I have always supported other small businesses and now I get to directly help them through COVID and beyond and hopefully help make a greater impact.
Why Ani Is Our Hero
Our heroes are people who apply great business skills, who contribute something of value to their community, and invest in themselves and others.
Ani Vong is certainly all of these things, plus more. She is a young Cambodian American woman who is gutsy, kind, irreverent sometimes, and lighthearted, and yet she is a girl boss who takes her life obligations very, very seriously. She wants a lot for herself and she wants even more for her community. She puts her money and time where her mouth is, and she does the things that we all want to do and say we’re going to do.
She is our local hero because:
- She trusted herself to take action on her dream before she “felt” ready because she knew the opportunity would not last forever.
- She did not let insecurity limit her impact, even when she couldn’t fully imagine herself in a position of power and business ownership, she still said “yes”
- She did not limit herself to someone else’s vision. She took the vision of what existed and improved upon it, adding her own personal touch.
- She persevered during very challenging times as a boutique owner in a struggling downtown. Even during the most difficult times, she kept evaluating, adjusting, and trying new ways to improve her chances of success.
- She prepared for the inevitable future. Downtown retail has been difficult for decades, despite a great desire for vibrant downtowns, the reality is something else. Ani did not continue to bang her head, instead, she developed a “pop-up” model, which allowed her to move into other businesses to sell her products, effectively building a business within a business, and reducing her reliance on foot traffic.
- She helped other businesses make money. Humanity’s online presence and marketing reach made it possible for Ani to bring new customers into the businesses in which she held pop-ups. In this way, she created opportunities and exposure for other businesses.
- She chose a job in service. After moving to a fully online model, she decided to go to work. Instead of chasing the highest-paying job, she chose a job of service. Serving others is the fastest way to integrate life lessons and she wasted no time offering her skills to others.
Small Business Resources Ani Was Able to Access
One of Ani’s skills is her willingness to seek help and willingness to learn from others. The Entrepreneurship Center is one of many local resources for small business owners, and Ani was wise enough to gather as much assistance as possible. Ani was able to take advantage of the following resources from the Entrepreneurship Center, plus other community resources.
- SBA Microloan – Funded Inventory and branding upgrade (Entrepreneurship Center @CTI)
- Lowell Downtown Venture Fund loan – Funded inventory and operating expenses (Lowell Development Financial Corporation)
- Launch Your Business Now Certicated – provided education to help her move her business online (Middlesex Community College)
- Everyday Entrepreneur Venture Fund – provided grant funding to increase her inventory for online sales (Middlesex Community College)
- MGCC Professional Services grant – helped her hire a professional to support her online business (Entrepreneurship Center @CTI)
- SBA Debt Relief program – helped her manage her debt due to the impacts of COVID – (Entrepreneurship Center @CTI)
- Business Coaching, including Operations and Finance – (Entrepreneurship Center @CTI)
“We know how important this support is, but we also know that our resources are limited.”MGCC President and CEO Larry Andrews
In partnership with Mass Growth Capital Corporation (MGCC) and Lowell Makes, the Entrepreneurship Center @CTI was awarded funds to build a Digital Education / Content Studio, called Lowell Makes Entrepreneurship. The studio will include a podcast audio station, product photography setup, video production tools and technology, and a printing station to produce branding assets. Lowell Makes Entrepreneurship should up and running by mid-March. Video production carts will be available for “check out” to allow entrepreneurs to produce high-quality video in their business.There is a vast and growing digital divide, in which local entrepreneurs lag behind in terms of education and access to digital tools and equipment.
Even the most basic tools for marketing, like lighting, microphones, and video editing software are beyond reach educationally and financially for many micro-enterprises and small businesses.
The goal of the Digital Education/Content Studio is to bridge this gap by providing free access to qualified entrepreneurs, including a dedicated space to record and edit video, create podcasts, work on branding assets, and take product photography, or print out branded labels, etc.In conjunction with the other tools and education provided by Lowell Makes, (for a membership fee), the collective creative energy and access to state of the art technology will go a long way in bridging the skills and access gap as well as improve the overall quality of content development in the Greater Lowell region.
We are extremely grateful to MGCC for this funding and are honored to be working with Lowell Makes. Both have had an unprecedentedly busy year, as Lowell Makes moved into their new home at
Western Ave. and MGCC became facilitators to Massachusetts emergency small business grant funding. Despite these changes and increased obligations, both have still managed to focus on being of service to their constituents and members.
We are honored to be among Lowell Makes and MGCC partners. We are proud to share MGCC’s goal of improving economic outcomes for local entrepreneurs regardless of their personal backstory or where they are on their entrepreneurial journey.
Franky, KellyAnne & Ani
Thank you MGCC, You Are A HERO!