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In Silicon Valley, how one Black-owned transportation business pivoted -- and survived -- during the COVID-19 pandemic

10:56 am ET April 24, 2021 (MarketWatch)
Print

By Levi Sumagaysay

Mosaic Global Transportation's fleet of 1,000 vehicles -- including 97 in Silicon Valley -- had nowhere to go, so the company got creative

Over nearly two decades, Maurice Brewster built Mosaic Global Transportation into a multimillion-dollar business based in Silicon Valley, with some of tech's biggest companies as customers.

Then came March 2020 and the coronavirus pandemic. Tech and other large companies sent their workers home. Concerts, weddings, conferences and airport pickups were canceled. Mosaic's fleet of shuttles, vans and other vehicles -- which number more than 1,000 in its worldwide network, including 97 in Silicon Valley -- had nowhere to go.

"When businesses shut down, our business shut down," said Brewster, chief executive of the San Jose, Calif., company.

But thanks to help from different sources, hard work by Brewster and his wife Rhonda, who is president of the company, and a pivot or two, Mosaic managed to keep going.

Now, with some of the company's business returning and a new venture involving electric vehicles, Brewster said he is "seeing a light at the end of the tunnel."

Mosaic did its best to keep as many workers employed in the past year as possible, but the company still had to lay off or furlough 40% of its 100-plus employees. Ronnie Sanchez was working on the charter side when the pandemic hit, and was one of the workers laid off in May. But Mosaic brought him back in July as a backup driver for Apple Inc. (AAPL).

Now, Sanchez has been promoted to operations manager. Mosaic continued to pay benefits for his family "and didn't charge me a dime" while he was laid off, Sanchez said. "Mo and Rhonda are always optimistic, striving and finding ways to keep the business going. I constantly see that. They're not just doing it for themselves. They're also doing it for us."

Pivoting during the pandemic

So how did they do it?

Along with a PPP loan, Mosaic's relationships with some of its biggest corporate clients helped keep it afloat. Brewster said some companies paid their contracts through the end of 2020, even though his drivers weren't taking customers to their jobs.

Nondisclosure agreements don't allow him to talk too much about that, but MarketWatch reported previously that tech giants like Facebook Inc. (FB), Google (GOOGL)(GOOGL) and Apple pledged they would keep their service workers compensated.

Coming to the rescue during the pandemic was Accion Opportunity Fund, a community development financial institution, or CDFI, that helped Brewster start Mosaic many years ago -- when he said no traditional banks would lend to a Black man building a ground transportation business with depreciable assets like vehicles.

Early on during the pandemic, AOF deferred payments on a loan so "we could catch our breath and put what revenue we had coming in toward payroll and continuing health coverage," Brewster said.

The CDFI also helped Mosaic "share our story as a Black-owned business pivoting through a global pandemic during a summer of racial reckoning," which he said helped his company land new business.

Mosaic tried other ways to keep revenue coming in, including exploring package deliveries and working with hospitals and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to transport health-care workers.

While Facebook (FB) hasn't started bringing employees back to work in large numbers, it is offering vaccinations at its large campus in Menlo Park, Calif.

Mosaic and its employees are volunteering to give people from underserved communities rides to the tech giant's vaccination clinic on Saturdays in April, a project that Sanchez worked on.

"It makes me feel good -- not only that we had the ability to provide those vehicles free of charge, but that our employees stepped up to volunteer," Brewster said.

Facebook, he said, is one of Mosaic's biggest customers.

There were other opportunities on the horizon: As more people are vaccinated and businesses bring their employees back to the office, Brewster is hoping to be able to rehire many of the employees his company had to lay off or furlough. Between transporting San Jose City College's athletes to games, and events and wine tours trickling in, about 20% of Mosaic's business is back.

"There's still a long way to go, but as companies start opening their doors, we anticipate that number will skyrocket," Brewster said. Corporate customers -- which make up more than 80% of Mosaic's business -- are contacting him about shuttling their employees again, he added.

Some big tech companies in Silicon Valley and elsewhere that have announced at least a partial return to work in the near future, including Facebook, whose employees can work in some offices in a few weeks, and Google (GOOGL)(GOOGL), which said it planned to bring some employees back this month.

Microsoft Corp. (MSFT), Uber Technologies Inc. (UBER), Salesforce.com Inc. (CRM) and others have also announced plans for some of their employees to come back to the office.

Besides preparing for a recovery in its original business, Mosaic just unveiled a new venture this week. It's forming Mosaic EV, a partnership with truck dealer Fairway EV and manufacturer Tropos Technologies Inc., to rent or sell customizable low-speed electric vehicles to colleges, universities and other places that are making the transition to more EVs.

Stanford University has already rented some of the vehicles for use by its maintenance crew, Brewster said.

Combining Mosaic's corporate-world connections with startup Tropos's EV technology makes sense, he said: "We're finding this opportunity to crawl with them. We hope it bears fruit."

Related read: How long will the Silicon Valley employees who can't work from home keep getting paid? (https://www.marketwatch.com/story/how-long-will-the-silicon-valley-employees-who-cant-work-from-home-keep-getting-paid-11600445242?mod=levi-sumagaysay_seemore)

-Levi Sumagaysay; 415-439-6400; AskNewswires@dowjones.com

	

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

April 24, 2021 10:56 ET (14:56 GMT)

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