Program helps small businesses take big leap

By Ade Adesanya

The Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce is invested in small business development as much as it is in downtown revitalization and marketing initiatives. The chamber actively supports private and government sponsored business development firms.

The chamber partnered with the entrepreneurship program at the Hankamer School of Business and the Small Business Development Center to create the Thrive Business Mentors program, a monthly meeting to bring together entrepreneurs and business consultants.

“Our job is to help businesses make better presentations to lenders to increase their chances of getting loans,” Belinda Pillow, director of the Small Business Development Center, said. “Not all businesses need us. We just want to be sure we work to prevent talented entrepreneurs from getting discouraged because they were turned down for a loan.”

These firms work with current and prospective small businesses to help create business plans, get loans, present a better image to the community, help link them to other companies and assist them in finding resources available to them.

Some of the firms are privately operated development companies, such as the Waco-based Platinum Career Coaching Group, a self-management and business strategy training company. Others are government-sponsored development entities like the Small Business Development Center at the McLennan Community College.

“The Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce is a sponsor of the annual Entrepreneurial Conference & Exposition held in August,” Brenda Atchison, CEO of Platinum Career Coaching Group and member of the Waco Chamber board of directors said. “Speakers from around the country are invited to speak about networking and other skills necessary to run a successful business.”

Minority-owned businesses have become more active in bidding for government contracts as a result of the Chamber’s support of entrepreneurship.

“We have filed papers to the state so that we can get funding for minority-owned businesses and minority contracting,” Atchison said.

Privately run small business development companies charge a fee for in-depth training for small business owners in business management and self-management practices, while consultation is free with the government funded small business development firms.

It is not only the cost of training that is different between public and private small business development organizations; training durations vary widely.

“Training length depends on the individual; it can be as short as six weeks or as long as one year,” Atchison said. “We have to be creative in how we service small businesses. They may not be available Monday to Friday; sometimes coffee shop meetings or focus groups work.”

Government-funded small business development centers determine that business development training must be at least five hours long in line with guidelines set by the Small Business Administration.

The Small Business Administration, a U.S. government agency, supports small businesses by providing entrepreneurs with education and guaranteeing loans.

The Small Business Development Center trains entrepreneurs to secure loans and run businesses without going into the intricate managerial details of owning a small business. This is where private entities differ, because they assist the client in working through the intricate details of understanding how businesses work.

“Executing the business plan is the greatest challenge small business owners experience,” Atchison said. “They have to be resourceful and focus on self-discovery and self-management.”

Small business development has its challenges regardless of the type of entity offering development solutions.

“We bring lenders and businesses together, but there are banks who won’t lend,” Pillow said. “We are also here to inform small businesses to avoid them.”

The private small business development system advises small businesses to be innovative and prescribes resourcefulness over seeking resources.

“The greatest challenge is to get everybody to see the challenges micro-businesses experience,” Atchison said. “Commerce chambers are primarily focused on bringing businesses that can employ more people at once. Large or small, businesses are good for Waco.”