How These Budding Entrepreneurs Won $20,000 for Their Start-Ups (New York City Housing Authority)

Date Published: 
May 17th, 2023

From the New York Times:

Sarah Adams, a teacher, started a side business selling her Jamaican grandmother’s rum cake in 2015 with $5,000 from her husband’s retirement savings. Soon, she was handing out samples at markets and street festivals, building her company, Ms. Macs, one tin at a time.

But when the pandemic crippled her growing business in 2020, Ms. Adams, who lives in a public housing complex in northern Manhattan, was forced to pivot. Teaching remotely, Ms. Adams put the money that she saved by not commuting toward trying out recipes for vegan muffins, reduced-sugar cookies and low-carb pizzas.

A few months ago, Ms. Adams received a newsletter from her landlord, the New York City Housing Authority, which announced a new competition for entrepreneurs living in public housing. It offered cash prizes of up to $20,000 and free business development classes.

“I thought it was fake,” Ms. Adams said. She called the housing authority to make sure it was real.

Ms. Adams, 47, owns one of the nine businesses that won “NYC Boss Up,” a “Shark Tank” style competition that invites some of the city’s poorest residents to propose business ideas for further development and funding. A total of 279 applications were submitted, of which 23 were selected for the final round. Those entrepreneurs went on to pitch their business plans and field questions from a panel of judges at the Central Library in Brooklyn in March.

The Boss Up program was funded for five years with a $1 million grant from the family foundation of Ron Moelis, a real estate developer who got the idea after reading a 2022 report by the Center for an Urban Future, a nonprofit. The report highlighted an untapped opportunity to increase entrepreneurship among public housing residents.


Mr. Moelis helped develop the Boss Up program with NYCHA, which provides free business programs to residents, and other partners, including FJC, a foundation that administered the award payments.

Applicants to the Boss Up program must live in one of NYCHA’s developments — which house about 368,000 residents citywide — or receive federal rent subsidies through its Section 8 program. The one-time awards are not factored into a family’s income, which is used to calculate their rent.

Read The New York Times' article "How These Budding Entrepreneurs Won $20,000 for Their Start-Ups," featuring the New York City Housing Authority.

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