Vanessa Williams had an idea for bringing a bit of Beverly Hills to Buffalo: a luxury concierge and spa service geared toward a working-class segment of the market that she believed was underserved.
"Everyone needs these types of services, whether it's a facial, a massage or having someone get groceries for you," says Williams, founder and CEO of Flawless Group, which is based in Amherst, N.Y., a suburb of Buffalo.
But when Williams was researching the business before launching in 2006, she found a dearth of resources she could draw on for useful information.
"If you did an internet search for ‘concierge in Buffalo,' you would not have come up with much," she says. "So I was on my own."
For guidance on starting her business, Williams turned to her local SBA office. The information she gained from the SBA was invaluable, she says.
But as a mobile entrepreneur--Williams spends entire days on the go bringing her services to client locations and running errands for customers--she says it would have made a big difference to have those resources in the palm of her hand through a mobile phone app.
When Williams was starting Flawless Group, there was no such app. Now, there is. The SBA, with development help from Palo Alto Software, launched its mobile app for the iPhone a few months ago.
According to Penny Pickett, head of the SBA's entrepreneurial development office, the app gives entrepreneurs access to SBA video content, provides social media alerts and a startup cost calculator and connects users to about 2,000 SBA and Resource Partner locations nationwide. The information available is drawn from the SBA's 68 local-level district offices, as well as its small-business development centers in every state, its 110 business assistance centers targeting women and more than 350 local chapters of SCORE.
"This is just the beginning," Pickett says. "We are going to put more of our resources on the app, things like disaster recovery information, and maybe in the future connect app users with our lenders and other capital resources."
Williams managed to start her business successfully without the mobile assist, but she's grateful to have it now. She says she uses the app frequently as she looks to take her business to the next level.
"I could have used a lot of this years ago when I was starting out, but now my business is growing and I'm looking at maybe hiring employees," she says. "I like all the video information you can get through app, and there are a lot of great links, too. It's tough to have time to find all of that when you're on the go."
Williams says the free app also helps entrepreneurs save money they would otherwise spend buying desktop software. "I'd definitely recommend the app to anyone starting a new business," she says.
Pickett says the SBA is trying to reach the people that need the agency most. "When you start a business, sometimes you think you're doing it alone," she says. "You're not."
Dan O'Shea is a Chicago-based writer who has been covering telecom, mobile and other high-tech topics for nearly 20 years.