Monday, February 12, 2007

Center Helps Would-Be Small Business Owners

Center Helps Would-Be Small Business Owners
By Ines Bebea

Instructor Sandy Stelter gives a workshop on starting and managing a business at the Vacaville Chamber of Commerce. The Small Business Development Center sponsors an array of seminars and workshops. (Photo by Zachary Kaufman)

FAIRFIELD - For the past 20 years, the Solano College Small Business Development Center has quietly nurtured the entrepreneurial spirit of the 1,200 people who attend workshops and the 400 people seeking advice from their business consultants each year.

While it receives funding from federal, state, county and local governments, it does all of its work without a marketing budget and relies heavily on word of mouth, its Web site and networking to spread the word about the multitude of resources available for hopeful business owners.

"Our mission is to help businesses get started and expand," said Charles Eason, director of SCSBDC, who has been at the helm since 2003. "And we do this is two phases, first by offering courses on how to successfully run a business and all that it entails, and second by providing one-on-one free advice with business experts."

The center offers over 100 free and fee-based courses and workshops each year, with an array of topics that runs the gamut from researching a business idea, writing a business plan, launching the business, hiring and managing employees, to help in locating and preparing how to apply for financing. There are more 1,100 programs like this nationwide, with the 110 in California associated with community colleges under the economic and work force development programs.

"The majority of the people who walk through our door already have an idea of what kind of business they want to operate," said Eason. "What they need help with is the financial knowledge of how to run a business."

According to Eason, the two most prevalent issues faced by business owners are access to capital and limited understanding of business practices. A few of the reasons why many small businesses fail within the first three to five years is because they don't anticipate expenses, do not market their business properly and some try to expand too early.

The SBA defines a small business as any company with a 100 employees or less and with up to $5 million in sales revenue. Locally, at least 90 percent of businesses in Solano County are small businesses.

"Small businesses are an important component of the economy ," said Eason. "Because they provide services and hire from the local workforce. Many large corporations today at one point were a small business. While that doesn't happen to all, you can certainly be successful as a business owner."

Eason knows first hand the kind of odds that entrepreneurs face to succeed. When he was laid off from his job as an aerospace engineer in 1991, he and his wife opened two Bitter Sweet Coffee shops in San Bernardino and Ontario.

"Running a business was a great learning experience for me," he said. "We sold one business and closed the other one. So I've experienced both sides of the coin. I can definitely relate to what people go through."

Reach Ines Bebea at 427-6934 or


Top seven reasons why people open their own business

1. Passionate hobby/to do work I love (28 percent)

2. Be my own boss (25 Percent)

3. To make more money (18 percent)

4. To create something people need (11 percent)

5. For the challenge (10 percent)

6. To get rich (or nearly rich) (6 percent)

7. Other (3 percent)

Source: Survey by Yahoo Small Business


Breakdown of SCSBDC workshops participants for the second quarter of 2006

44 percent male

46 percent female

10 percent didn't specify

40 percent Caucasian

24 percent black

15 percent Hispanic

7 percent Asian

2 percent Native American

2 percent Native Hawaiian

Source: Solano College Small Business Development Corporation

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Solano SBDC

424-C Executive Ct. North


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