S.F. startups face sea of red tape

The nitty-gritty of starting a small business is a lot less sexy than the big vision. And while San Francisco has many organizations set up to help small-business owners, the legal buck still stops with the entrepreneur.

Mayor Gavin Newsom and City Treasurer Jose Cisneros announced the creation of a new Small Business Assistance Center on Monday; the opening date is yet to be determined.

In the meantime, the Office of the Treasurer and Tax Collector offers some services to help business owners meet their requirements, according to DJ Dull-MacKenzie, a manager there.

“We make no bones about it,” Dull-MacKenzie said. “It’s a bureaucratic city.”

The requirements for getting started aren’t minor, with names and location being the most immediate source of headaches. Dull-MacKenzie advised new entrepreneurs considering a specific shop or office to make sure neighborhood zoning allows for that business before they sign leases or invest money in the property.

Businesses also need to get a license. And they need to do so prior to getting a “fictitious business name” filing, a step entrepreneurs often try to reverse because banks need the business-name filing before they’ll create some accounts.

The names themselves, Dull-MacKenzie said, must be researched by the entrepreneur: The City will allow a new entrepreneur to register as “Disney McDonald’s,” but it won’t protect you when lawyers come calling.

The topic piqued the interest of attendees at a small-business workshop Tuesday.

“I was thinking of the name in particular and the logos I would like to use. I want to be sure I’m not infringing on anyone else’s ideas,” would-be shopowner Belle Navarez said.

Likewise, entrepreneurs should give thought to protecting their own intellectual properties, according to Celia Van Gorder, an attorney with Howard, Rice, Nemerovski, Canady, Falk & Rabkin in The City.

Other issues that come up for small-business owners include compliance with minimum wage and unlawful discrimination laws, and picking the best way to establish the company as a legal entity. Generally, for small businesses, a sole proprietorship or a general partnership is better than more complicated forms designed to protect personal assets, attorney Felicia Vallera said.

kwilliamson@examiner.com

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