Helen Perez

Name: Level-Up Studios
Location: Bayonne, NJ

Helen Perez always knew she wanted to be an entrepreneur. She says that as a kid, she would sell anything she could get her hands on.

It's no surprise that her entrepreneurial spirit led her to small business ownership. After years of training in parks, garages, and other people's gyms, compounded by a corporate layoff from her full-time job, Helen decided to go all-in with Level-up Studios in 2017.

Like so many other gyms, the studio was hit hard by the pandemic. First, there was the mandatory statewide closing of all non-essential businesses. Then there was the fear of working out in close quarters. While Helen and her business partner Patrick tried to pivot with online offerings, it just wasn't enough.

Ms. Perez says she started applying to every small business assistance program she could find, including UCEDC's Virtual Incubator Program (VIP).

The VIP allows businesses with ownership from underserved populations the opportunity to sustain themselves through the current economic landscape by offering education and access to capital. It was developed as a way to battle the injustices and obstacles that diverse business owners have historically faced, which have often impeded their success.

Through UCEDC's VIP, Helen says she was able to get her finances in order and change her accounting systems, which has helped her to have the necessary documentation ready when applying for loans. Patrick is happy to report that Helen was also able to share the knowledge she gained from the program with him. He credits their small business survival to Helen's tenacity.

Helen and Patrick are currently working on increasing Level-up Studio's offerings and plan to move to support their growth.