By Naeisha Rose
In 2016 State Assemblyman Clyde Vanel won a five-way race to represent the 33rd Assembly district of New York, making him one of five members of the state’s Legislature who is of Haitian descent. He would later be re-elected in 2018 with a landslide victory.
As the chair of the Subcommittee on Internet and Technologies in the state Assembly, Vanel wants to ensure a brighter future for his constituents in Southeast Queens through technology and entrepreneurship.
Our goal is to help small businesses “modernize” by helping them work with Small Business Services, he said, and to create opportunities for young people to monetize what they do through technology.
“For small businesses, we work with Small Business Services to help modernize the business,” said Vanel. “For young people, I say that technology allows you to monetize what you do.”
The Haitian community has long been known for its entrepreneurial spirit both in the United States and back home in Haiti.
“In America, we have this idea of individualism of ‘we all can make it,’” said Francois Pierre-Louis, a political science professor at Queens College. “Here we get to choose what we like to do…Also, if you are not highly skilled, you don’t have a job guarantee. I know a lot of people who have been fired from their job so they use their savings to start their own business…and there is this idea that you can become rich if you have your own business.”
Born to Haitian parents who immigrated to the United States in the 1970s, Vanel is making sure black and brown communities in his district, which includes Queens Village, Cambria Heights, St. Albans, Hollis, Bellerose and parts of Floral Park and Elmont – areas when combined have the second largest population of Haitian Americans in New York — have access to resources that encourages the growth and integration of technology in these communities.
This month, he’ll be working with Facebook to help teach entrepreneurs how to utilize the platform for business, and on March 9 he’s sponsoring a Black Girls Code seminar at York College in Jamaica for 100 girls, where they’ll learn to develop an app.
A Pew Research Center report said that blacks only make up nine percent of the STEM field, and women make up 29 percent of that field, according to the National Girls Collaborative Project in the U.S. Black women make up 2.9 percent of the STEM field, according to Catalyst.org, a research organization that also advocates for women in leadership roles.
“It’s very important for us to work to ensure women and minorities are engaged in the new generation of economic opportunities, which includes STEM and new technologies,” said Vanel.
While there are a number of other issues facing Haitians in the U.S., like immigration and affordable housing, making sure small business owners in the community are effectively utilizing technology is just as important for Vanel.
Many mom and pop shops have cash-only businesses, according to Pierre-Louis.
“In America and New York City, it is hard to start a business, and if you are an immigrant it is even worse,” said Pierre-Louis. “You have to use your own funding to get it started…therefore, a lot of these businesses are not big businesses…but because of a lack of capital, that is why they do that.”
To modernize Haitian mom and pop stores, Pierre-Louis says these businesses need to get loans, do job skill training and owners would have to have a niche in the job market that would distinguish them. They also have to learn every aspect of the business in order to compete and sustain their firm.
Vanel said, making transactions using query codes on your phone and using cryptocurrency is what small businesses need to adopt soon.
“Small businesses, if they are going to survive are going to have to adopt the latest technology, and even beyond that small businesses are going to have to survive beyond their retail space, they are going to have to have a digital presence.”
Vanel is currently working with his outreach team to meet locals and business owners and is getting help from Small Business Services to train people how to build their own websites. He also has his own line of men products on Amazon and uses his Youtube series Clyde’s Corner to show people how he has used technology to build his side business so that he can be an example to the next generation of entrepreneurs.