Small Business Development Center at EKU Honored as State's Best
It probably came as no surprise to local educator/entrepreneur Gus LaFontaine or local dentist Dr. Susan Vanstone when the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) at Eastern Kentucky University was recently named the best of 15 such centers statewide.
“The EKU SBDC, and particularly (Director) Michael Rodriguez, helped empower me with the confidence and organizational capacities to create a successful small business,” said LaFontaine, who this year opened LaFontaine Preparatory School in Richmond. “In our inaugural year, we have been able to enjoy great success, thanks to our own hard work and the guidance of capable people and organizations such as Mr. Rodriguez and the SBDC.”
LaFontaine and Vanstone, also an entrepreneur with a jewelry sideline business, are among the 236 clients in a 15-county area who took advantage of a wide array of SBDC services from Oct. 1, 2010 through Sept. 30 of this year. All told, the clients benefited from approximately 1,100 counselor hours and were approved for almost $2.6 million in loans.
“I have used (the SBDC) many times and always have a great experience,” said Vanstone, whose jewelry business is titled Steampunk and More, LLC. “It makes setting up a small business so easy. (I) have only had positive results, and I tell my patients who are interested in starting a business to call the SBDC for assistance.”
The SBDC, an outreach service of EKU’s College of Business and Technology, is housed within the university’s Center for Economic Development, Entrepreneurship and Technology (CEDET) with offices on the Richmond campus and in Somerset. It provides free counseling, training and information programs and services to existing and potential small business owners in the following counties: Adair, Casey, Clinton, Estill, Garrard, Jackson, Laurel, Lincoln, Madison, McCreary, Pulaski, Rockcastle, Russell, Wayne and Whitley.
Much of the SBDC’s work centers on helping clients with licensing, financing, and developing business plans, Rodriguez said.
“The licensing process is so hard to navigate,” he said. “We also help prepare clients for bank visits to acquire financing, and in some cases help them improve their credit scores.”
Other times, Center staff serves simply as a “sounding board,” especially with start-ups.
Training sessions throughout the service region focus on frequently expressed client needs such as web site development, using social media, and setting up QuickBooks.
In order to earn recognition as Kentucky’s top SBDC, the EKU center met or exceeded 12 of the 13 numerical goals set for it by the Kentucky Small Business Development Center.
The EKU SBDC’s professional staff includes the Richmond-based Rodriguez, who has more than 12 years of experience in consulting, health care management and as a restaurant franchise owner/operator, and Somerset-based general management consultant John Preston, who joined the SBDC in 1999 after logging almost three decades of experience in business, mostly in banking, mortgage and consumer lending and personnel management. Preston has also operated his own insurance firm.
Earlier this year, Preston received the 2011 Kentucky State Star award from the Association of Small Business Development Centers as the Bluegrass State’s top consultant. Rodriguez was recently named as runner-up for statewide Consultant of the Year, and both he and Preston are members of the SBDC’s Million Dollar Loan Club.
Another plus for EKU’s SBDC is its location in EKU’s Business and Technology Center alongside the Eastern Region Innovation and Commercialization Center, which includes a business accelerator (incubator), and Entrepreneur Services. The EKU SBDC also benefits from a close relationship with EKUBusiness academic programs, all housed in the building. In fact, the SBDC received the 2011 Extraordinary Achievement by a Center Award, in part for its efforts to integrate clients into classroom projects. This fall, four marketing classes are working with 15 clients to develop marketing plans and assist in additional ways.
Dr. Allyn White, an assistant professor in EKU’s Department of Management, Marketing and Administrative Communication, said the juniors and seniors in her Advertising and Internet Marketing classes have benefited tremendously from working with SBDC clients.
“I’ve seen so much more of a personal investment by the students in these projects,” White said. “It’s always nice for students to get examples in practice. It also gives them ideas what they can do when they graduate.”
The Extraordinary Achievement Award also notes the EKU SBDC’s efforts in the field of social media. “The EKU SBDC has really set the stage for other SBDCs’ social media efforts and collaboration with host institutions,” said Kentucky SBDC Director Dr. Becky Naugle. “It is an honor to recognize them for their hard work.”