This December we are thrilled to highlight Iulia Bejan, owner of Connect Lounge, through a three-part small business story series! Connect Lounge, is an immigrant-owned “social bar” in Seattle’s Belltown neighborhood that prioritizes human connection through conversation. In this second installation of our Connect Lounge series, we will explore how Iulia was introduced to Business Impact NW.
Iulia visited 12 local banks who all rejected her request for a loan before she found a silver lining during a meeting at Columbia Bank. “All the banks were extremely risk-averse,” Iulia remembered. “They especially don’t like giving money to startups, or bars and restaurants.” While Columbia Bank was also unable to provide Connect Lounge with a loan, their Seattle Market Manager and VP, Gregg Ridgeway sat down with Iulia for several hours. He listened to her story, reviewed her business plan and resume, and ultimately recommended she connect with Business Impact NW.
It was 2016 when Iulia met Business Impact NW’s Chief Program Officer, Domonique Juleon. “The whole conversation lasted for four or five months,” said Iulia. Ultimately she received a $15,000 loan from Business Impact NW upon signing a lease agreement for her Belltown location at 2330 2nd Avenue. That year she also started working with business coach, Steve Watts-Oelrich, now the Veteran Business Outreach Center Program Director, who advised her during the launch of a crowdfunding campaign that netted over $15,000, helping cover an additional portion of the startup expenses.
Connect Lounge opened its doors nearly a year and a half ago, but the journey from idea to grand opening took five years. “When the idea came to me, I told a few people about it,” Iulia said. “Of course nobody takes you seriously.” But Iulia took herself seriously, as did the team at Business Impact NW. When she was introduced to Business Impact NW she already had her vision on paper in the form of a business plan, she was actively developing her mixology and hospitality skills, and she had infused a considerable amount of her own capital into the business. She had almost all the pieces but needed a small loan and a business coach that could serve as a sounding board during her launch, in order to make her dream of a social bar into a reality.
“It was a pleasure watching Iulia take the journey into entrepreneurship,” Steve added of his experience coaching Iulia. “She is driven and she is passionate about her business model. I am happy that she took advantage of SBA resources, got good mentors and collaborated instead of going it alone like many of those who want to be entrepreneurs.”
During the launch of Connect lounge, Iulia also competed in Business Impact NW’s annual IMPACT Pitch competition to increase the visibility of her business idea. Her skill at telling her small business story and relating to people paid off during the video voting round where Connect Lounge received the most votes.
“The reason I wanted to open this business is people,” added Iulia. “My fire is people, and hospitality has 3 pillars: people, food, and drinks; so for me it’s people…I could listen to someone’s story for three hours and not be bored…that is why I opened this.”
Iulia would also like to thank the following entities for their support of Connect Lounge’s launch: Intentionalist, The Evergrey, Internations, and a talented chef in Belltown who played an integral role in creating the food menu for Connect Lounge’s Romanian Night.
Check-in next week to discover the next steps for Connect Lounge and to learn more about the lasting social impact of the bar and lounge. Miss our first Connect Lounge story exploring Iulia’s journey to entrepreneurship? Click here to read “Connect Lounge: A Small Business Story of Joy & Human Connection – Part 1.”