UrbanTech taps into federal funding and nurtures its client base.
• Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses (10KSB)
• Inner City Capital Connections (ICCC)
• Inner City 100
Wei Wang launched his bridge-building firm, UrbanTech, in 1999 in a warehouse basement in New Jersey. His seed capital, he recalls, was $1,000 or so in savings and “a lot of sweat equity and brain power.”
Within a few years, he and his small team of structural engineers were helping build and repair bridges up and down the East River of Manhattan.
“We were performing well,” said Wang, who was born in Shanghai and studied engineering in Denmark before coming to America. Still, he said, annual revenue “stayed flat at a million for a decade,” keeping him from adding staff or growing to the point where he could consider taking the company public.
“My whole mindset was changed,” Wang said. “The program is like a mini-MBA. They teach you marketing and negotiation and management and team building. I was not a natural fee negotiator — I had a lot of anxiety. I learned it was all a balancing act, and this was extremely helpful and effective for me.”
UrbanTech’s monthly payroll. The 20-person company also covers 80 percent of employee healthcare costs and offers a five percent 401(k) match.
The percentage of UrbanTech employees who hold advanced degrees in structural engineering or are licensed professional engineers.
Ambitious growth targets
Applying what he learned gave him the confidence to set growth targets of 25 percent a year. In 2020, he said, revenues rose to $4.5 million despite the Covid-19 pandemic, and he expects to reach at least $5 million next year.
Wei said one of his best qualities is anticipating business trends. When the Covid-19 epidemic struck China in late 2019, he saw trouble coming and “tapped into ways to finance growth,” including a $1 million loan and a $1 million line of credit from Chase Bank. Once the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) was enacted, Chase deferred all payments and Wei was successful in securing critical PPP and EIDL loans.
The fresh financing allowed him to keep his 20-person staff on payroll and canvass his clients to see which of their projects would go forward even as the Covid outbreak shook the United States. He also bought new equipment so his employees could work safely from home.
“We are in New York City and people need to get paid and without your people you simply cannot keep up with the competition,” he said.
Building for the future
Wei’s experience growing up in China when there was no free market system animates his goal of creating a minority-owned small business with big ambitions. Word of mouth and a string of successes, showcased on UrbanTechUSA.com, have put the company in demand for specialty jobs like renovating bridges and train trestles without disrupting traffic flow.
“We are a niche market in a sense,” he said. “The companies that need our kind of engineering all know who we are.”
A soft-spoken man who favors bowties and still enjoys a bit of Danish cuisine, Wei says his dream remains going public one day and rewarding the loyalty of his staff.
“Our people work very hard,” he said. “They have spent many years building us up and I want them all to have a stake in our future.”