Published on February 5, 2012 By Michael Souza, PBN Staff Writer
Starting a business at any time is a difficult proposition. In the aftermath of the Great Recession, it can seem nearly impossible. But according to a number of organizations – both public and private – engaged in helping small business, starting a business today is a good idea. And they are willing to help entrepreneurs who want to take the plunge.
“In a down economy it’s a great time to start a business if you plan right and have enough capital to get you through,” said Tamarah Bacon, business-development and assistance manager for the South Eastern Economic Development Corp., or SEED. “If you have a good business model and a good product or service, and you keep expenses low, you should make it through this economy and then do better when things pick up.”
SEED is a nonprofit corporation headquartered in Taunton that is certified by the U.S. Small Business Administration and was created 30 years ago to improve the economy of the region by helping small businesses. Throughout the year, the agency offers free workshops and seminars to help potential entrepreneurs start or increase their business.
Despite its Bay State roots, SEED holds workshops across Rhode Island as well as southeastern Massachusetts. Its basic entrepreneurship workshop features the fundamentals of financial statements and are held monthly or even more frequently based on the demand.
“They’ve offered the workshops on how to start your own business for as long as I’ve been here, at least the last seven years,” said Bacon, who organizes and produces the workshops as well as teaches ownership basics.
She said the workshops are in demand. “Depending on the venue, we’ve done workshops with anywhere from 10 to 45 people,” she said. “There has always been a lot of interest.”
One slight shift is that more people with small businesses are attending and refreshing their skills. “We’ve had an increase in existing businesses attending the workshops. They’re trying to do something a little different to make it through the economy,” Bacon said.
She said that today, entrepreneurs are forced to become more realistic. To obtain a loan, most institutions require a business plan that helps determine feasibility, and should also include market research.
She admits that although starting and running a business might be someone’s dream, the process is an exercise in practicality. “The workshops discuss the importance of being conservative, watching the bottom line and sharpening the pencil when it comes to expenses.”
Samuel Carnevalla of South Kingstown is enrolled in SEED’s February workshop. After spending more than 20 years in construction, he has run his own business, Sam Carnevalla Construction, for the last two years. According to Lois J. Carnevalla, Samuel’s wife who also works in the business, the largest difficulty is getting the word out. “We’re new to the area, and we’ve made some contacts, and the workshop should help even more,” she said.
While SEED is a nonprofit in operation for three decades, one local businessman decided a year ago that he wanted to take on helping the region’s entrepreneurs as a collective project. Founded in January 2011, the Rhode Island Small Business Recovery Program is the brainchild of David E. Nash, a retired 21-year veteran of the Central Rhode Island Chamber of Commerce, where he served as its president and CEO. The organization offers a curriculum of courses designed to move Rhode Islanders “from unemployment to self-employment,” he said, and aid the success for existing businesses as well.
Nash downsized his own consulting practice to serve as programming director for the new group. He has since rallied local businesses, chambers of commerce and professionals to sponsor and volunteer in the program. “It’s a collaborative effort with 35 organizations across the state,” he said. “We have trained more than 2,400 people in the first year,” said Nash, “an indication that there is a lot of need for what we do.”
The free training, which takes place monthly, is tailored for entrepreneurs, and focuses on business growth, generating Internet income and business coaching. Classes include basic entrepreneurship, bank financing, business design and strategy. He estimates that about 70 percent of those who attend courses have existing businesses. “We’ve got about 80 programs already scheduled for 2012.”
Nash is the only staff person in the otherwise all-volunteer organization, whose annual $20,000 budget is covered by private-sector contributions. Most of the events are held at the Centerville Commons Office Park in Warwick. “We owe it all to our collaborative partners, corporate sponsors and the faculty that volunteers their time and services. We also have a great landlord who’s worked with us and provided us with furniture,” said Nash.
In the future he hopes to work closer with the region’s chambers of commerce, helping to provide free workshops for their members.
In fact, there are a number of resources available to new and existing small businesses in the region, including Every Company Counts, the small-business initiative of the R.I. Economic Development Corporation, the Rhode Island Small Business Development Center located at Johnson & Wales University and the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Rhode Island office, all of which provide individual and online counseling as well as group seminars to businesses for minimal or no cost.
The Center for Women & Enterprise is a well-established nonprofit dedicated to helping women start and grow their own businesses. Established in 1995, CWE is considered a national leader in promoting woman-owned business. “Locally our workshops are held in Providence, Worcester and Boston,” said Julie Bilodeau, program assistant.
For a cost of about $35, the center specializes in two entrepreneurial courses that cover business basics and business planning. In addition, the center provides networking opportunities, advanced training and consulting. •