California State University, Fullerton

A-Z Index

CSUF Home   »   INSIDE
Vi Pham

A Far Cry From Civil Litigation

Alumna “Flexes” her Business and Law Degrees to Help Small Businesses Develop and Succeed

August 6, 2007

By Pam McLaren

Vi Pham sits in a crowded corner of a long narrow campus office scanning a computer screen, talking on the phone, going through papers, chatting with students or conversing with her mentor and associate, Michael Ames, professor of management and director of the College of Business and Economics’ Center for Entrepreneurship and Small Business Institute.

It’s a normal day for the Cal State Fullerton alumna (B.A. business administration-finance ’97) as director of the Tri-County Lead Small Business Development Center headquartered in Room 321A of Langsdorf Hall.

Since 2003, Cal State Fullerton has provided training, consulting and technical assistance to small businesses through Small Business Development Centers in Orange County and the Inland Empire.

Since that time, Pham has been working with Ames to see that the SBDCs provide the assistance needed by regional businesses. Their efforts have ranged from workshops and advice to consulting services. It’s a working relationship that had its beginnings more than 10 years ago.

Pham first started working with Ames in 1994 when she transferred to CSUF from UC Irvine. She continued to spend summers working with the veteran faculty member while earning her law degree from Southwestern University.

She had been practicing civil litigation law for a couple of years when she call a call from Ames, who wanted to go over a proposal he was going to make to the U.S. Small Business Administration for the College of Business and Economics to oversee the SBDCs in the area. She was surprised when he asked her if she wanted to join him in the effort.

“So I quit my job and have been here ever since,” she says during a rare slow moment in the action in Room 321A. As the physical location for the lead center, as well as the Center for Entrepreneurship, Small Business Institute and the entrepreneur program in the College of Business and Economics, it is unusual to not find students sitting at the long conference table or at some of the computers in the room. But the beehive of activity seems to suit the petite attorney.

Pham negotiates the annual contract with the federal government and the subcontracts with the SBDCs; she oversees the guidelines in which the centers operate to make sure that they meet federal regulations. Her close oversight has hit pay dirt: last year, the center was formally accredited by the Association of Small Business Development Centers.

“We spent a year in preparation — it’s a pretty rigorous process,” Pham says, adding that of six California regions, the Tri-County region is one of the first to receive the full four-year accreditation.

“We’re the third largest regional lead center in California by business population,” she says. “Our biggest challenge is developing additional supports for small business and getting people to understand the value of the program.”

But there has been fun too. She enjoys the opportunity to meet people locally, nationally and within the university system. “It’s a pretty good ride,” she admits.

Back to Top