State Reboots Small Business Counseling

CT, federal cash behind relaunch of SBDC network

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Harriet Jones
State Reboots Small Business Counseling
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State Reboots Small Business Counseling
Getting the right advice when you open a new business is crucial. Most small business startups fail within their first year of operation. But mentoring can be hard to come by. Now the state is reviving a longstanding effort - the Small Business Development Center - to reach out to would-be entrepreneurs. WNPR's Harriet Jones reports.
 
Chris Krieger has small business blood in his veins, by way of his grandfather.
 
“He was a butcher and owned a very small supermarket in New York. I worked in the store when I was in middle and high school. My mother worked there, my grandfather and my uncle. And it always amazed me that that was their piece of the pie. That was what they did, and I looked up to them for that.”
 
Krieger, who lives in Bristol, is currently a loan officer for a credit union, but he’s never lost the itch to start something of his own. A craft beer enthusiast since college, his dream now is to open a specialist package store that will take advantage of the general explosion of interest in local beers.
 
“We opened, I think ten new breweries in the state of Connecticut over the last 18 months I believe, and there’s another six in progress of being opened. The whole industry’s just been taking off.”
 
Krieger and his wife Colleen picked out a potential storefront for their new venture in a redevelopment in downtown Bristol, and began writing a business plan, figuring out the operating costs. He soon realized there was plenty he didn’t know, and went looking for help from the Connecticut Small Business Development Center.
 
“Well, I was looking on the website back in December, and it was there, and then when I was ready to start signing up for classes, the website disappeared. There was a page up saying coming soon, and that was all the information that was given.”
 
The SBDC is a longstanding institution in the state, offering workshops and mentoring for new and existing businesses. In recent years it’s been run out of Central Connecticut State University, but last summer they lost the contract to provide services. The federal Small Business Administration, which funds the centers, asked UConn to step up to the plate instead.
 
“I’ve been trying to take a new approach to it, and take it up a level.”
 
Serial entrepreneur Danny Briere is in charge of rethinking the center on a much larger scale.
 
“In the past, the SBDC would probably have been happy if we’d touched a thousand companies in the state of Connecticut. Well, there are 78,000 small businesses in the state of Connecticut. How can we address all 78,000 businesses and make an impact?”
 
The SBDC is known for its face-to-face mentoring as counselors work with small business owners on specific problems. Briere says that will be stepped up. He’s hiring more counselors, paying them better and putting them into the offices of chambers of commerce around the state. But he says that effort has to work hand in hand with technology.
 
“We are launching a series of web based tools and programs that any small business and use -- a much stronger online presence. Programs that allow them to go and maintain their own marketing and web presence on the web, through free services of the SBDC.”
 
The relaunched SBDC got a splashy sendoff at the capitol Wednesday, with regional SBA administrator Jeanne Hulit there to give her blessing. She says the SBDC is the glue that holds together all the agency’s other efforts.
 
“It is the counseling that helps a business be prepared to get that financing, to get that capital. It is the counseling that helps that business get that federal contract. And it is the counseling that helps that small business recover and rebuild from a disaster.”
 
The state too has skin in the game here - they’ve agreed to match federal funding for the program for at least five years. Governor Dannel Malloy says it will be important for the center to work in concert with the other elements of his new innovation ecosystem.
 
“There is this hunger in Connecticut to begin to prosper again. I think people are quite frankly, tired of being tired. And they want to get going, and we want to give them the tools to make sure that can happen.”
 
Would be entrepreneurs like Chris Krieger are ready and waiting, hoping the tool box can give them what they need.
For WNPR, I'm Harriet Jones.