SBDC Programming Evolves to Reflect City’s Growing Interest in Entrepreneurship

Starting a business – it’s exciting, yet…daunting. Where do you begin? For over 30 years, the Ohio Small Business Development Centers at Columbus State Community College have been helping local entrepreneurs pursue their dreams of business ownership.

While the mission has long been the same – to accelerate business success – the programs and advising options are evolving along with Columbus’ small business climate.

“A lot of it’s been driven by this entrepreneurial activity and the volume of people wanting to start businesses, build businesses here in Columbus, and we’ve had to adjust what it is we do,” says Center Director Michael Bowers.

When The Metropreneur checked in with the SBDC in 2013, in a 10-month span from October 2012 to June 2013, the center served 517 clients and offered over 1,300 advising sessions, which resulted in 44 new local businesses.

Those numbers are up significantly. From October of 2017 to September of 2018, the center served 1,087 clients, saw 3,824 attendees at its training sessions, recored 124 business starts and was responsible for 824 jobs created and retained.

The businesses that the SBCD assists run the gamut of industries, with the occasional spike in food-based enterprises, and as of late, more home health care businesses.

“We are getting more folks talking about social enterprises,” Bowers says.

While the SBDC has typically worked with entrepreneurs through one-on-one advising, Bowers says the volume of interest has required the organization to develop a new point of entry for its services.

The SBDC now curates a three-step start-up process that is streamlining the high volume of entrepreneurs, and ultimately, leading to stronger businesses.

Individuals start the process by attending the two-class B.A.S.E. Workshop. Class one is an entrepreneurial overview, discussing topics like what it means to be in business, understanding your customers, market, demographics, and more. Entrepreneurs have the opportunity to start asking questions of experts in class number two which brings in attorneys, bankers, insurance agents and more. After the B.A.S.E. workshop it’s on to a CPA-taught Business Tax Workshop.

If an entrepreneur is ready to continue pursuing their idea, step two is enrolling in BizStart 2.0. The four-week program focuses on business validation and understanding markets. While the B.A.S.E. Workshop is a high-level overview, BizStart is when entrepreneurs start working on their enterprises. That means there’s homework – research, surveys, talking to potential customers. It’s a strong indicator of an entrepreneur’s drive – if they’re not willing to do the homework now, they probably aren’t ready to start a business.

If an entrepreneur completes the first two steps, they are then assigned a SBDC certified business advisor and move into one-on-one counseling. Streamlined to launch-ready entrepreneurs, advisors can meet with clients more frequently who are actively working on their businesses.

The SBDC is developing partnerships that tackle other facets of the start up process. Since its launch in Columbus, the SBDC has been referring its clients to zero interest micro-lending platform, Kiva. The lower dollar amount loans that rely not just on normal credit, but social credit, are a good entry point to funding for entrepreneurs.

Now, the SBCD is working directly with the lender to bring Columbus’ Kiva lead into their office.

“We knew that we wanted to provide more solid footing for Kiva and we felt that we could do that,” Bowers says.

The SBDC is still working with Kiva to develop the program, but the lead will be a certified business advisor like the rest of the organization’s advisors. Columbus will be the only place in the country where Kiva is part of a small business development center. If the program goes well, it could be replicated around the country.

As the SBDC continues to put more processes in place, they will leverage a resource right at their fingertips – the college itself. Bowers says they are developing partnerships with the business management and entrepreneurship programs, and also the culinary program which is building a new facility.

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ADDITIONAL READING: Learn more about the programs and services the SBCD offers Latino business owners.