Betsy Hill, Neighborhoods Café: Service to Country, Service to Community

Veteran entrepreneurs are increasingly contributing to business creation and growth to the American economy after service. Active duty and reserve service often instills important skills and leadership abilities that are directly relevant to business ownership.  A profile of Veteran’s Business Ownership by SBA’s Office of Advocacy reported that the share of women business owners have increased among both veterans and non-veterans, but at a much greater rate for female veterans.  In 2012, only 4.4 percent of veteran business owners were women – up from 2.5 percent in 2008, almost doubling in numbers. [1]

Betsy Hill had no prior business experience before launching Neighborhoods Café.  A Boston University alumnus, Betsy was a member of the Reserved Officers’ Training Course (ROTC) while in college, and was deployed to Turkey as part of the US Air Force upon her graduation.  Military experience gave her both personal and professional development, honing her leadership craft on a daily basis with routine training and plan execution.

“Responsibility for taking care of other people under the most stressful circumstances as I’ve experienced in service, teaches you how to stay level-headed and weather the entrepreneurial storms that come with starting/running a small business,” said Betsy.  

Although Betsy had no experience running a business – she worked previously at a Starbucks and wasn’t afraid to ask for help.  Betsy reached out to her friends for business and legal advice to kick start the process for seeking out skills and knowledge she was unfamiliar with.  A close friend and neighbor introduced her to Center for Women & Enterprise – an SBA women’s business center, part of a national network of about 100 educational centers across the United States created to help level the playing field for women entrepreneurs.  Initially looking for legal advice, Betsy met with a counselor from Choate Hall & Stewart, LLP. Once she had sorted out her legal concerns, she returned to CWE for a course on QuickBooks to learn some basic accounting in preparation for book keeping her business.

During this time she also worked on her developing business plan with a CWE volunteer mentor in order to get lender-ready.  Betsy recalls meeting with her mentor regularly to refine her business plan until he eventually said, “There’s nothing more to do!” Only then did she feel ready to apply for a loan through the SBA. To her surprise, she was approved for the SBA Patriot’s Express Loan (now SBA Veteran’s Advantage Guaranteed Loans) with Radius Bank– a pilot loan program with enhanced guaranty and interest rates specifically for veterans, reservists and their spouses. Now equipped with financial capital and a few coffee machines she had collected over time, she was ready to start brewing! “I would not have done it without CWE!” she exclaimed, Betsy was specifically grateful to her CWE mentor for his help in getting her loan approved.

It took 18 months to shift from barely breaking even to becoming a profitable venture. “You have to keep working at it”, she said. Ambitious at heart, Betsy admitted that the journey is ongoing, and she still has a long way to go.  Her current priorities are to maintain a 15% annual growth rate and paying off the initial 10-year-loan, 3 years early – a task Neighborhoods café seems well on track to accomplish.

Neighborhoods Café is all about building community – and strives to achieve this by building close relationships with suppliers, customers and among employees. Betsy encourages her employees to, “treat each other like family and to treat the customers like guests in their home.” As more cafes pop up around the area, Betsy is determined to stay competitive by creating exceptional quality. “If you serve something worth coming back for, the customers grow your business for you,” she said.

Entrepreneurship has not only given Betsy a source of income doing a job she enjoys, she has also benefitted from a more flexible schedule that allows her to partially homeschool her children. A strong advocate for female entrepreneurs, Betsy shared this advice, “Do everything with a team… lean on people who have skills different from yours… ask for help and keep working on it… You can do anything!”


 

 

96 Peterborough Street
Boston, MA, 02215
www.neighborhoodscafe.com

Located on Restaurant Row in the heart of the Fenway area




[1] https://www.sba.gov/sites/default/files/Issue%20Brief%201,%20Veteran%20Business%20Owners.pdf