Start Me Up!

Small Business Development Centers (SBDC)

Administered and funded by the SBA, SBDC programs offer management assistance to new and established business owners. There are 57 SBDCs with a network of nearly 1,000 service offices--with locations in each of the 50 states; Washington, DC; Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands--and more than 70 branch locations. A "lead" organization sponsors the SBDC and manages each program, coordinating services for subcenters and satellite locations at colleges, universities, community colleges, vocational schools, chambers of commerce and economic development corporations.

Because SBDCs are hotbeds for entrepreneurial activity, they're a good place to get expert advice. "You'd be nuts not to take advantage of an SBDC," says Gina Mattei, director of training at the University of Houston's SBDC. Like most SBDCs, Mattei's center offers A to Z information for start-up entrepreneurs. "We take them through all the key steps, from idea to product completion and everything else in between," she explains. "We even walk them through the Yellow Pages to help them find the best local assistance available."

Mattei says one of the principal advantages of SBDCs is that, while they're funded by the SBA, most are part of a college or university and are staffed by paid professionals. "Entrepreneurs can avail themselves of many business services offered by that particular institution," she explains. "[Services] vary all over the country, depending on the school and its facilities."

Mattei says her staff can take start-up entrepreneurs through the entire business-generation process. "First, we have them do a feasibility study, which is simply a method of figuring out what the proposed company looks like on paper," she says. "The feasibility study examines all the critical issues, including the product, production costs, unique qualities, market, competition and financing. Then we determine what kind of experts are needed. If the entrepreneur plans to ship products abroad, we bring in an international expert with importing and exporting experience. If a factory is necessary, we bring in someone from our Manufacturing Assistance Center. If there are technical issues, we hook the entrepreneur up with someone from our computer science department."

Although all-around assistance is what it's known for, Mattei says her SBDC also attracts entrepreneurs with very specific problems. Mattei recalls a client who ran a small catering business out of her home. Her problem? She needed a commercial facility and didn't know how to go about getting it. Mattei assigned an appropriate finance expert who evaluated her needs and helped her get financing. Today, she's running a thriving catering business out of a commercial site.

Speaking for all the people who work at SBDCs, Mattei says their role is to provide honest advice. "We have no ulterior motives," she says. "We want the entrepreneurs who come to us to be successful."

To find the SBDC nearest you, call (703) 271-8700 or visit its Web site at http://www.asbdc-us.org

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This article was originally published in the June 1999 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Start Me Up!.

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