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The Long Road

Enlightening travels find SBDC funding reaching new lows, generous big guys and inspiring entrepreneurs.
November 1, 2005
URL: http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/80442

I had a very busy September traveling across the country meeting hundreds of entrepreneurs and the people trying to help them. I was left feeling frustrated and exhilarated--all at the same time.

A few months ago, I wrote about how Congress had yet to pass the Sweeney bill. The legislation, officially the National Small Business Regulatory Assistance Act of 2005, was reintroduced in the Senate this past July by Sen. John Kerry (D-MA), the ranking minority member of the Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, and co-sponsored by Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME), the chair of that committee. At press time, the bill has not yet been passed.

One of my September stops was at the annual Association of Small Business Development Centers convention, where I reconnected with old friends and met some new ones. Don Wilson, CEO and president of the ASBDC, told me he was hopeful that Congress would take action and pass the bill.

You should know there are thousands (yes, thousands) of dedicated people at the nation's SBDCs willing and eager to help you grow your businesses. Some people mistakenly think SBDCs are just for startups. While new entrepreneurs can learn a lot from their local centers, most entrepreneurs who show up are existing business owners with questions they need answered or problems they need solved.

SBDCs are good at answering questions and solving problems, but they are handicapped--their budgets are a fraction of what they used to be. One person told me they couldn't even afford a subscription to Entrepreneur anymore. I took care of that, but how pathetic is it that the very group charged with helping entrepreneurs start and grow businesses can't even afford 20 bucks? Marc Comer, Kerry's press secretary, told Entrepreneur the senator was also working on legislation asking for more money for SBDCs, which haven't had a funding increase in the past 5 years.

That was the frustrating part--all these hard-working people eager and willing to help you build stronger businesses, yet hamstrung by circumstances out of their control.

The exhilaration came from talking to SBDC folks and seeing some large corporations (like Intuit and Microsoft) donating products to SBDCs. And it comes from teaming up with corporations like Xerox and entrepreneurs like design miracle-worker Thom Filicia. Click here and meet the winners of the Entrepreneur and Xerox "Most Deserving Small Business!" makeover contest. You will be stunned at how Thom and Xerox transformed a brewery's dingy (and that's being kind) offices into a state-of-the-art facility.

Exhilaration also came from talking to people like you. In Las Vegas, I met nearly 200 homebased travel agents at their first annual convention. The diverse group shared a goal of re-energizing their hard-hit industry by using technology to cut overhead but not services. Then in Miami, I met several dozen entrepreneurs who were exploring the eBay option (either as an add-on to their existing businesses or as a startup).

Many people are astounded that I've been working at Entrepreneur for over 23 years and wonder how I can still be that excited about what I do. The answer is easy: It's you entrepreneurs. You're never boring. You're always growing, transforming and creating. Who else can look at nothing and envision something grand?

Most Americans know how much you do for your communities and for our nation. But--and I'll keep saying this until someone does something about it--you need help from your communities and your nation, too. Please call or e-mail your congressional representatives and the White House. Tell them you're a business owner. Ask them what they're doing to help you solve your greatest challenges. Demand an answer. It's the very least they owe you.