West Virginia Executive Summer 2014 - Page 30

[ leadership ] Coaching for Capital West Virginia’s Small Business Development Center Offers Support for Entrepreneurs and Business Owners Small business is big business in West Virginia, which is why the West Virginia Small Business Development Center (SBDC), under the leadership of Director Kristina Oliver, has undergone a major transformation to ensure the needs of the state’s modern small businesses are being met. In order to meet those needs, the SBDC developed a continually growing network of business coaches located throughout the state whose purpose is to help companies succeed and grow while providing them greater access to capital. Over the last three years, the SBDC has coached more than 3,100 clients and has helped businesses raise nearly $53 million in capital and create and retain more than 4,000 jobs. Although the SBDC’s target market is existing businesses, the center realizes it needs to effectively and efficiently reach out to all levels of entrepreneurship. To do this, it has developed the Three Step Jump Start program. Step one is watching an online video that outlines what the SBDC is, who its partners are and what they do. Step two is attending a workshop that provides the tools for starting a business. Step three is working with a business coach. A major strength in the center’s coaching network is the collective knowledge and industry expertise that comes from many of the coaches having been entrepreneurs themselves. The network offers in-depth knowledge in areas like technology and innovation, health care, tourism, manufacturing, building and contracting, retail and green energy and brings the business disciplines of finance, management, import and export procedures and compliance, succession planning and veteran opportunities. Coaches access the network to ensure entrepreneurs have the help they need. The SBDC has a long list of businesses its coaches have supported. Three of the most recent success stories—MightyTykes, Sur-Loc Flooring Systems and Bridget’s Dance Academy—represent the variety of areas in which the SBDC is able to assist. MightyTykes, LLC, located in Berkeley Springs, WV, was founded by Isabella Yosuico, the mother of a child with Down syndrome. When she realized that hypotonia, or low muscle tone and muscle weakness, would affect her child, she developed small weights that could be used through a progressive process to help improve muscle tone. Learning that the weights could also help treat similar conditions associated with premature birth, infant stroke, autism, cerebral palsy and muscular dystrophy, she decided to start a company that could develop, manufacture and sell the product. Working with the SBDC, Yosuico was able to secure financing from the INNOVA Commercialization Group and the West Virginia Job Investment Trust to launch her business. In May, MightyTykes unveiled its products at the New York Metro Abilities Expo, and Yosuico now ships products throughout the U.S. “After we got started, we met nearly weekly,” Yosuico says of working with her SBDC coach. “The feedback, the resources 30 west virginia executive brought to the table and the business acumen applied were key to my ability to secure a loan.” In many cases, SBDC coaching involves an existing business, as is the case with Sur-Loc Flooring Systems, LLC. When owner Mark Cerasi was considering a new venture with a Brazilian group, he was referred to the SBDC for help with developing a plan. Sur-Loc’s patented flooring system is used in large tents at major events like the Super Bowl, Cirque du Soleil and corporate aircraft shows. The Brazilian group had developed a machine for washing these large tents, and they were interested in having Sur-Loc offer the cleaning service. After careful consideration, the SBDC helped Cerasi determine that this venture didn’t make sense for his company; their assistance also helped him realize that recapitalizing Sur-Loc would produce a significant improvement in cash flow and position the core business for further growth. That process is underway and will soon be completed. “I didn’t know this type of resource was available,” says Cerasi. “Their work has been invaluable in helping me move Sur-Loc forward.” The SBDC’s work, which crosses many industries, also extends into the arts. When Bridget Watters, the coach of Marshall University’s dance team, decided to open her own dance studio in Huntington, WV, she sought help from the SBDC. Prior to opening, SBDC business planning sessions considered tradeoffs between buying, leasing and financing options for space. A successful opening showed that she should expand, and she worked with the center to develop an expansion plan. She was able to secure a loan to move into and renovate a much larger facility. She now has more than 250 students and an expanded staff, and the business continues to grow. Watters was recently honored as the West Virginia Small Business Administration 2014 Young Entrepreneur of the Year. As these three businesses show, there is great value to be found in working with the SBDC and its skilled business coaches. Regardless of the type of product or stage of the business, the SBDC’s coaches have the knowledge and access to tools to help entrepreneurs realize their dreams and business owners find new avenues for growth. More importantly, the coaching effort is designed to provide entrepreneurs and business owners a solid foundation on which they can move forward on their own.  By Tom Halverstadt and Bob Marggraf