Inside Fiserv’s $1M pledge to help minority small businesses in N.J.

Back2Business program will award $10K grants, training/support to 100 women-, veteran- and minority-owned companies

Tennille Ortiz of the Cupcake Carriage, a boutique mobile bakery based in North Arlington, took a minute to catch her breath and regain her composure.

“I’m trying to get through this without crying,” she said.

Ortiz, who was one of the initial three honorees of Fiserv’s $1 million Back2Business initiative Thursday, said she was thrilled to be awarded a $10,000 grant along with complimentary small business coaching and access to Fiserv’s small business technology solutions.

More than that, she said, she was honored to have a mother, Myrna Colondres, who showed her how to get to this moment from humble beginnings in Harlem.

“I watched my mother pull me out of poverty with blood, sweat and tears — and pure grit,” she told the crowd gathered at Fiserv’s newly opened campus location in Berkeley Heights.

“She was the first person to teach me that this was possible.”

That’s why Ortiz said she will use part of the grant to reach down to the next generation.

Seated, from left, Aleksandra Miloseska of Quick Fit Bites, Audley Wilson of RoboBurger and Tennille Ortiz of the Cupcake Carriage are joined by representatives from Fiserv and other partners after being named the initial recipients of Fiserv’s $1 million Back2Business small business program.

“I considered the Cupcake Carriage to be a purpose-driven business,” she said. “So, I’d love to go back to my community and teach other inner-city kids and show them the world of entrepreneurship, because they can all have this path.

“Cupcake Carriage gives me the exposure to those kids to be able to teach them entrepreneurship.”

In one moment, Ortiz personified the efforts of Fiserv’s Back2Business program.

It’s not just the money and the training — although, let’s be clear, the $1 million the financial services technology company has dedicated to New Jersey will offer an opportunity for 97 more honorees from minority and underserved communities to earn the $10,000 grant and services. (See more information here.)

The Back2Business program is about building communities through business. That’s the way Neil Wilcox, Fiserv’s head of corporate social responsibility, said the company sees it.

“We believe that small business is the backbone of America and American business,” he said. “When small businesses thrive, we all thrive. Those small businesses employ people, they uplift communities, they really are the lifeblood of our economy. So, when they’re successful, we believe we’re all successful.”

Then, there’s this.

“We believe that doing good is good business,” Wilcox said.

John Harmon, the head of the African American Chamber of Commerce of New Jersey, couldn’t agree more. He said the program has life-changing potential for the community he represents.

“This is seismic — this is transformative,” he said.

Harmon credited Fiserv Chair and CEO Frank Bisignano, a native of Trenton, for stepping up.

“This is all about leadership,” he said. “It’s about leveraging inclusivity. It takes one person one step forward, and, hopefully, then others will follow.”

Jim Coyle, the head of the local Gateway Regional Chamber of Commerce, was just as direct. He said the state would benefit if more companies acted like Fiserv.

“You do not see the kind of community participation that Fiserv does anymore,” he said. “This is what we’re really losing in the community. Supporting the business community supports the whole community. More companies need to see that.”

Nancy Cantor, the chancellor of Rutgers University – Newark, is all in. That’s why her school and Fiserv previously announced a partnership that will have Fiserv working hand-in-hand with Rutgers-Newark to create an innovation lab that will introduce more science, technology, engineering and mathematics initiatives to the community.

“I think it’s amazingly special what they are doing in New Jersey,” she said. “Small businesses build community. They see that — and they are really committed to building a diverse and inclusive talent pipeline. It’s authentic.”

You could see that in the other two initial honorees on Thursday.

Aleksandra Miloseska of Quick Fit Bites is an immigrant from Macedonia. She started a small business providing natural, healthy energy bites made with simple, all-natural and organic ingredients when she said she struggled to find healthy choices for her family.

The grant and training from Fiserv will help her expand her marketing efforts, Miloseska said.

Audley Wilson of RoboBurger, the first plug-in burger chef in a box that cooks a burger from scratch at the press of the button, has spent more than a decade perfecting the idea.

The grant and training from Fiserv will help him in his plans to take the company national through franchisees.

Ortiz’s goals were closer to home.

She calls the Cupcake Carriage a beautiful bakery on wheels — one that services both corporate and private events, everything from employee appreciation and company milestone outings to birthday parties, bridal showers and weddings.

She said she will use some of the money to help her reach a goal of obtaining access to a commercial kitchen.

Gaining access — to capital, to opportunity, to technology — is what the Back2Business program is all about. That’s the way Luis De La Hoz of the Statewide Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of New Jersey sees it.

De La Hoz, a regional director of community lending at Valley Bank, has made it his life’s work to help entrepreneurs from underserved communities. He said he’s seen all sides from the corporate world. And he’s impressed by what he sees from Fiserv.

“A lot of companies make a statement,” De La Hoz said. “This is a commitment.”