It’s been a busy year for the University of Southern Mississippi’s Small Business Development Center, which recently marked its first complete fiscal year, Oct. 1, 2015, to Sept. 30. Officials at the center have conducted 35 training events in Hattiesburg and counseled 167 clients from throughout the Pine Belt. Twenty-one businesses have started and 117 new jobs were created.
“Anytime a small business is created — jobs are created, tax revenue is created — it’s very important for the economy,” said Mitch McDowell, assistant director of the state Small Business Development Center. He oversees the state’s seven Small Business Development Centers and 17 satellite locations.
The centers work with people who are exploring the possibility of starting a small business, those who are actually starting a business and owners who have been in business for two years or longer. They offer workshops, counseling, business plans, loan packaging assistance and referrals.
“The beauty of a Small Business Development Center is you ask the questions you could ask your neighbor, but if you ask your neighbor, they might steal your idea for the business,” said Faye Gilbert, College of Business dean. “The (center) offers a safe haven.”
The Southern Miss center is a partnership between the College of Business, the state Small Business Development Center at the University of Mississippi, the Small Business Administration and the Trent Lott National Center.
The center at Southern Miss offers so-called Business 101 workshops to help people who are considering a start-up company. A series of classes are offered two to three times per month.
“They also help existing businesses grow their market and increase product line or sales,” Gilbert said.
McDowell said those classes also serve the important purpose of helping prospective owners decide when it’s a bad idea to open a small business.
“Probably about 80 percent of people who are pre-venture say, ‘I’m not ready to do this,'” he said. “We prevent them from making a huge financial mistake.”
Gilbert said prospective owners are taught the right questions to ask.
“For me, the most important thing for a small business owner to learn is cash flow and profitability,” she said. “What do you need to earn and what do you need to leave there for the next day?
“That’s the conundrum of a lot of small business owners — what you have to leave there for operating capital and what you can take home as capital.”
Clients who are ready to proceed can take advantage of one-on-one counseling and help drawing up a business plan and looking for financing.
The Small Business Development Center opened at Southern Miss in January 2015. Previously, it was located at Jones County Junior College, where officials closed it in June 2014 to concentrate on an eight-week small business course, called Operation Jumpstart. Anyone in the class who needs further business counseling is referred to Southern Miss.
Gilbert said the center is much needed in the Pine Belt.
“It’s needed to shore up existing business owners who might need that expert to take them to the next step,” she said. “I think it’s needed to kick-start our Pine Belt economy because growth in our economy is going to come from entrepreneurial enterprises.”
And McDowell said it’s needed to educate people about when — and when not to — start a business.
“That’s a very important number — that 80 percent,” he said. “They’re not ready. They can’t be properly funded.
“We help people go through that self-vetting process. We give them the tools to decide if this is something they should do or not.”
By the numbers
Southern Miss Small Business Development Center
Time period: Oct. 1, 2015-Sept. 30
Capital formation: $3.2 million
Clients counseled: 167
Jobs created: 117
Jobs retained: 58
Loans submitted: 24
Loans obtained: 21
October Business 101 Workshops
Starting a Business – First Steps: 6-8 p.m. Tuesday
How to Develop a Business Plan: 6-8 p.m. Oct. 25
Where: Trent Lott National Center, second floor, room 207
To register: www.mssbdc.org, click on “Workshop Schedule,” or call (601) 266-5892