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For One Martial Arts Academy, Small Business Program Brings New Hopes

SAN FRANCISCO -- When James and Deundra Hundon opened Universal Martial Arts Academy in the Bayview-Hunters Point district of San Francisco in 2010, many people were skeptical – and some still are.

“We get a lot of doubters, a lot of naysayers, who say, ‘Why would you open up a martial arts school on 3rd Street? You know how that neighborhood is … Aren’t you scared to open up a business there?’” says Deundra. “But my husband and I said, ‘This is the exact place for us to open up our business, it’s the exact community.’”

Especially because in the Bayview, there isn’t “a fitness center on every corner,” she says. She and her husband wanted to bring more healthy options to the neighborhood.

“We have children in our program now who come, and it is an oasis for them. We have women who come, some who have been hurt in the street, who are learning to take care of themselves. We have men who themselves were bullied when they were young kids who are now coming to our center to work through that bullying as they are now adults,” she says.

But, three years after opening the academy, the Hundons were struggling financially. Without a business background and needing more cash flow, they weren’t sure how to keep moving forward.

In January, they started working with Wells Fargo as part of the Wells Fargo Works Project, which is geared toward providing small businesses with financial help and mentoring from small business experts.

When the Hundons started with the project, their office didn’t have a computer and the academy’s website wasn’t functional.

Through the project, they were able to meet with a marketing consultant to learn about attracting new clients, including corporate clients. A designer helped them create a new website with professional photos, one that allows customers to sign up for classes online and pay with credit cards. And their office now has a computer and other necessary equipment.

“We’re now taking online payments, and we had customers sign up online in the last couple of weeks,” says Deundra.

They were able to hire an employee to handle social media and are working with a bookkeeper. Right away, they began seeing an increase in profits. “We have made more income from January to today than we did in all of 2013,” says Deundra.

The Hundons spoke at an event in San Francisco last week publicizing Wells Fargo’s recent launch of Wells Fargo Works for Small Business, an initiative aimed at helping entrepreneurs grow their small businesses with resources, services and guidance. Wells Fargo has also announced a lending goal of $100 billion in new small business loans by 2018.

The Wells Fargo Works Project has helped other small businesses across the country, like Golden Harvest Foods of St. Paul, Minn., owned by Shua Xiong and Jou Lee, who are both immigrants from Laos. Like the Hundons, the owners of Golden Harvest needed a website and wanted to grow their business in other ways, such as holding cooking demonstrations in the store and developing a retirement plan for their long-time employees.

“Small business owners are crawling out of the recessionary impact,” said Wells Fargo small business segment manager Doug Case. “Small businesses felt the brunt of the impact post-recession … This is still a recovery period for small businesses in this county.”

The average commitment size of a business line of credit is between $25,000 to $30,000, Case says, which can help small businesses to “keep the doors open in the best and the worst of times” and allow for periods of fluctuation.

“We see this as being a long-term investment that we’re making in small business as a company,” he said.

Deundra Hundon says that embarking on the project with Wells Fargo has, above all, given her and her husband “confidence.” “We have that now, where we didn’t have that before. We’re learning how to ask for the sale,” she says.

“We are so glad we took the time to go through the process,” she says. “I know that this is just the beginning because so many things have happened [already].”

The Wells Fargo Works Project is holding a contest for eligible small business owners nationwide. Five finalists will each win $25,000 along with mentorship and tailored solutions for their business, as well as a $5,000 charitable donation to a charity in their community. To enter, business owners must submit a 600-word essay or an up to two-and-a-half-minute video responding to questions about their business. Twenty-five finalists will be selected to each receive $1,000. Five grand prizewinners will then be selected from the 25 finalists. The contest deadline is June 30, and winners will be announced in September. Visit www.wellsfargoworks.com to enter the contest.