NWI host to multiple resources designed to help entrepreneurs
Cultivating communication skills, mentoring, giving sound advice and offering a collaborative environment are among the ways region organizations are fostering the young entrepreneurial community.
“Starting a business isn’t easy. There’s a lot of risk associated with it,” says Lorri Feldt, regional director of the Northwest Indiana Small Business Development Center. “We work to help get young entrepreneurs off to a good solid, successful start.”
Through the Northwest ISBDC, young entrepreneurs can meet with business advisers, receive access to market data, find connections within the business world and sharpen their skills with a variety of workshops.
Expert advice: The NW-ISBDC’s team of business advisers is available to meet one-on-one with emerging entrepreneurs. The no-cost guidance covers all aspects of business ownership from marketing and business plans to start-up steps and all things financial. The advisers have a range of backgrounds and expertise to support all avenues of business ownership.
“A key area for us is our ability to help entrepreneurs find sources and prepare to apply for financing,” Feldt says. “There’s no guarantee, but hopefully we can help them find some capital to start or grow their businesses.”
One of the office’s key measurements is the amount of money SBDC clients are successful in raising. Feldt cites that in 2016, SBDC helped Northwest Indiana clients obtain more than $12 million in loans and other capital.
Those interested in meeting with an adviser can visit nwisbdc.org and click on the “Apply to Become a Client” button.
Market data: The SBDC also provides clients with data to aid business owners with strategic decisions, such as location.
“Our market data is an outstanding resource,” Feldt says. “We have assisted clients in determining location by providing such data categories as demographic, spending, pet ownership and traffic counts.
“I really think it’s a tool that helps people get grounded and understand factually what they are looking at,” she says. “It’s a hidden gem.”
Workshops: Business Start-up 101 is a core ISBDC workshop for emerging entrepreneurs that focuses on business idea evaluation, managing expectations, characteristics of a business owner and identifying start-up expenses. The monthly workshop is led by a business adviser and is offered throughout the region, including at the Purdue Technology Center of NWI in Crown Point, the Regional Development Company in Valparaiso and Purdue University Northwest’s Commercialization and Manufacturing Excellence Center in Hammond.
Additional workshops offer entrepreneurs the opportunity to take their skills to the next level in such areas as QuickBooks and marketing. The NW-ISBDC often partners with regional organizations and colleges to present entrepreneurial-based events throughout the year. Through a partnership with Indiana University Northwest, the SBDC team has collaborated with marketing professor Dr. Subir Bandyopadhyay to provide no-cost workshops on mobile marketing and social media.
To view available workshops and register online, visit nwisbdc.org and click on “Workshops and Events.”
Important links: The advisers’ knowledge of the region’s small business community can also benefit young entrepreneurs. “We are connectors,” Feldt says. “If it’s not something we do, we can find the right contact for that.”
NW-ISBDC client Mike Michalak, lead web developer and security specialist at Trail 9, began bidding on government contracts through Indiana Procurement Technical Assistance Center (PTAC) after learning more about the program from Feldt.
“I received feedback on our marketing campaigns and information regarding the different programs used by the ISBDC,” says Michalak, 30, who launched his business about four years ago. “Lorri has been great to work with.”
For more information on NW-ISBDC’s services, call 219-644-3513 or email email@example.com.
PNW’s Commercialization and Manufacturing Excellence Center
At Purdue University Northwest’s CMEC, a platform for boosting communication skills is brewing and innovators are taking their concepts to another level.
1 Million Cups: The nationwide program developed by the Kauffman Foundation brings together entrepreneurs for a morning of networking and discussion over coffee. Featured entrepreneurs highlight their products or services during the event.
“While established businesses have the various chambers of commerce, entrepreneurs in this region often have no established peer network,” says Mont Handley, CMEC associate director. The 1 Million Cups program “provides a network of mentors, ambitious start-ups, established entrepreneurs and various business development professionals to the region’s aspiring business developers,” Handley says.
“If the people who attend 1MC don’t know how to help you, then they usually know someone who does,” he adds.
Young entrepreneurs can apply to present in front of the audience and have the opportunity to hone their communication skills and receive feedback.
“Communicating business ideas effectively is a primary characteristic of successful entrepreneurs, and 1 Million Cups is a perfect place to develop or polish those skills,” Handley says. “By attending, you can see presenters effectively present their vision or you will witness the audience question assumptions or suggest how the presenter might be more effective or improve on his or her idea.
“Regardless of the outcome, the presenter has achieved some level of candid feedback on their presentation and their product or service.”
Michalak had the opportunity to spotlight what his company is all about in front of a 1 Million Cups audience. Trail 9 is a web design and development company that builds websites for clients beginning at the lowest level of hosting and then layering performance, security, design and search engine optimization on top.
“Presenting is one of my weak points so it’s good to get in front of people and enhance that,” Michalak says of his experience at 1 Million Cups.
The Hammond chapter meets from 9 to 10:30 a.m. Wednesdays in Room 115 at CMEC, 7150 Indianapolis Blvd. For more information, visit 1millioncups.com/hammond.
Concept to Commercialization: CMEC is also working with local entrepreneurs who have a manufacturing component to their venture.
“Helping innovators scale their products to full commercialization is vitally important to our current economy, considering that most net new jobs are created by companies that have one to nine employees,” Handley says. “In Indiana, nearly one-third of our state GDP comes from the manufacturing sector and if one-third of all new companies in Northwest Indiana have a manufacturing component, then CMEC may have a major impact on the region’s employment and poverty issues.”
Through the program, students assist with prototypes developed from an entrepreneur’s concept and the team goes out and acquires customer feedback. From there, decisions on changes can be made and a manufacturing method can be created.
“We’re really trying to do a manufacturing analysis so when you go to the bank or investors you have actual numbers. You are often making assumptions, especially if it’s manufacturing-related,” Handley says. “It’s so important to me as I couldn’t find help to scale my own proof of concept so I moved PittMoss (a peat moss substitute made of recycled paper) to Pittsburgh.”
For more information on CMEC, call 219-989-3251, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit centers.pnw.edu/cmec.
Volunteer members and specific subject matter experts are mentoring the next generation of entrepreneurs through the Northwest Indiana SCORE chapter 0310.
SCORE provides no-cost advice through its 25 volunteer members, who are either active business owners or professionals, retired or working part-time.
“The very purpose of SCORE is to help small businesses succeed and when SCORE was created in 1964 it was structured so that people with a lot of business experience would be engaging in helping those with much less experience,” says Chapter Chair Jim Hubbard. “SCORE has a great deal of experience in working with young entrepreneurs. We help them to develop their own business plan as a way to anticipate and address the myriad of business issues any new business faces, but doing so before property is bought or leased, capital is spent, or any of the other key steps new businesses take when getting started.
“The idea is to help young entrepreneurs think about the problems or decisions needing to be addressed in advance of actually having to make them, thus positioning themselves to be ready for any eventuality before encountering it.”
Seth Spencer, 20, started with SCORE in 2014 at the beginning of his journey to launch SERA Solutions, a full-service digital agency specializing in website development and online advertising.
“I originally started working with SCORE to get assistance in creating a business and business plan,” Spencer says. “I received assistance on developing a marketing strategy and focusing on how to get our name out. I had follow-ups with a list of goals and to-dos and how to execute those goals.
“Since then, it has now shifted to strategies for expanding, finding office locations, adding employees and processes for sales development.”
Spencer, who is studying business management at Purdue University Northwest, says exposure to SCORE’s volunteer mentors has prompted him to give back. He volunteers on a weekly basis at Crichfield Elementary School in LaPorte, helping fourth-grade teacher Marty Briggs with STEM projects. He has also given his time to the Junior Achievement program.
“I was definitely inspired by the individuals who have mentored me and I pass that on by giving back to the community,” he says. “It’s definitely humbling to give back.
“I feel really fortunate as it was extremely intimidating when I started out. Looking back at that first meeting, my mentors did not doubt me on that first day and they never gave up on me. It’s been a great journey.”
Zoseco in Valparaiso and greenCOW coworking in Hammond are region office spaces that offer a collaborative atmosphere for start-ups.
They provide office supplies—with the planet in mind at greenCow—as well as the resources needed for a productive work environment.
“Co-working spaces are great for collaboration and tossing around ideas,” says Michalak, who works out of Zoseco. For more information on Zoseco, visit zoseco.com or on greenCow, visit greencow.space.