Since 1975, the regional Small Business Development Center in America’s SBDC Network is one resource that many first-time entrepreneurs all across the country have utilized or at least considered making a stop. Harnessing its partnerships with private enterprise, government agencies, higher education institutions and local nonprofit economic development organizations, their mission for their 1000 or so centers for the last 36 years has been and still is to educate and strengthen small businesses.
Since 1982, Louisville Small Business Development Center has been serving their area as a part of the Kentucky Small Business Development Center network. And beyond the typical services one might think are offered at the SBDC, the team of four, under the leadership of David Oetken, has been innovative in creating programming and guidance fit for the needs of their area. This fall, this team’s efforts will be honored at the national conference with the 2016 Sutton Landry State Star for Kentucky, an award that recognizes outstanding performance and commitment in serving Kentucky’s small businesses.
Oetken, who has owned, operated, and sold several successful businesses prior to his work at the Louisville SBDC, talked with us about the programs that are especially popular, finding money to grow businesses, and what makes the Southeast special.
What are some of the actions that Louisville SBDC is taking that you believe contributed to the center’s success? Are there any specific programs that are particularly popular at your center?
The Louisville SBDC has also been recognized for our efforts in educating the public about our services. We are serving a real purpose when so much of the startup business discussion often is focused on unlikely scenarios that aren’t going to be available to most people. Not everyone is going to get a “Shark Tank,” opportunity, but with the right skills and access to capital, startups and scale-ups will flourish.
You serve several counties well outside of Louisville. I’m thinking that the types of services you offer to the counties vary depending on what’s available for each area. What are some of the challenges that come with that?
We serve nine counties around the Greater Louisville area, from a fairly large urban center to fast-growing white collar counties, to rural areas. Louisville is a logistics hub, so we counsel on a number of opportunities in that area. Inventory control is often crucial there, and we teach best practices. In more rural areas, we have focused on building out main street businesses in smaller towns, helping with online ratings sites and a strong digital presence.
Coming back to food again, there are a lot of opportunities for rural areas to play a bigger part in the local food movement. Often these areas are producers, but not necessarily strong marketers and processors. We’ve helped conduct market research, business planning, and loan packaging for some game-changing new facilities that are having a big impact in rural economic development.
The one constant is solopreneurs in all areas. Financial modeling, business planning, and access to new financing are always a need.
Why should those of us just starting out in their entrepreneurial journey visit a SBDC? What are some of the services that you offer that not many are aware of?
There’s a lot of good ideas out there, but the execution is often poor. It’s definitely new and unchartered territory for many people. We offer the basic and advanced training on the real mechanics — the “blocking and tackling” of business. It might not be the sexy topic right now, but it’s usually what divides the winners from the losers.
Our primary mission is to entrepreneurs find money to start or grow their business. The business plan is NOT DEAD. The Louisville SBDC works one-on-one with business to make the best possible presentation. Good loan packages for traditional banks & SBA loans are still valuable tools and besides self-financing, or borrowing from family & friends, business loans are the general means by which businesses are launched. Venture funds usually get all of the focus, however. We can help with non-traditional funding through various national sources. Locally, KIVA crowdfunded loans have been great for entrepreneurs.
How are small businesses and guidance of them particularly important in the Southeast? Why are you passionate about this area?
Culture is different in the Southeast. There’s a much more collegial environment that’s open – and friendly competition for the most part. You don’t often see that in other regions of the country. There’s collegiality about the region. You see employers assisting their own employees with building their own businesses. That’s very special.