Success in Small Business
“I always loved small business retail,” said Kara Taylor ’99. Although she graduated from Ship with a social work degree and spent several years in the field, she gravitated toward her part-time work during college at the former East Meets West in Shippensburg as a career.
“It was a longtime goal for me to own a shop,” she said, and when that opportunity came, she went straight to SU’s Small Business Development Center (SBDC).
The SU SBDC is part of a statewide, nationally accredited program that provides no-cost, confidential consulting and low-cost training to small business owners and entrepreneurs in Adams, Cumberland, Franklin, and York counties. Over its ten-year history, the SU SBDC has consulted with more than 2,100 clients, helped launch 322 new businesses, and created more than 1,000 new jobs. The center received recognition for its success earlier this year with the 2017 US Small Business Development Center Excellence and Innovation Award.
Taylor was familiar with the SBDC from her time as a student at Ship. Although she loved social work, she felt drawn to retail. In 2012, she started part-time work at The Gift Enclosure in Chambersburg “for fun.” Within a few months, the owner expressed interest in leaving retail and moving on. This was Taylor’s chance to make a career move.
“I made a call to the SBDC one day and explained the situation, who I was, and what I wanted to do,” she said. “They helped me develop a business plan.” “Entrepreneurship is ubiquitous,” said Mike Unruh, director of the SU SBDC. It draws all ages, backgrounds, experience levels, and trades, he said.
Unruh works with people in every stage of the process, starting with The First Step workshop, which covers the basics of launching a small business. “For a lot of people, it’s an eye-opening experience.”
Being your own boss appeals to many people, said Cheryl Young, consulting manager at the SBDC. However, the commitment outside of the day-to-day operating hours often are overlooked. “There’s marketing, there’s book work, there’s banking—so many things can take hours out of the day outside of running the business.”
At the center, Unruh and Young provide personal attention to entrepreneurs in the community, helping them develop a strong business model, make financial projections, secure capital, create a realistic timeline, and more. “Developing a business plan gives them direction with their business,” Young said. “You think about every single aspect on paper and picture how this is going to work.”
That’s exactly how Robyn Dingle ’08 got her consignment shop, Second Time Around, up and running in downtown Carlisle. A marketing major with an entrepreneurship concentration, Dingle interned at the SU SBDC. After graduating, she spent six years in the corporate world then decided to follow her dream of owning a business and contacted the SBDC.
“The main thing I learned was to develop a solid business plan,” she said. For about two years, she worked with the SBDC on her business plan to make sure the business was viable. She scouted locations, researched competition, and secured financing. Finally, she opened her doors in July 2014. “The best thing of all is being your own boss,” she said. “Instead of dreading going to work, I’m excited to go to work.”
Over the past several years, the SBDC has offered student internships and developed hands-on experiences for students interested in launching a business. The interest and enthusiasm created through these experiences helped pave the way during the university’s capital campaign to fund the recently dedicated Charles H. Diller Jr. Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership and Innovation.
“Our goal is to expose students to the practical side of entrepreneurship, not the theoretical side,” Unruh said. “We keep them grounded in the real world.”
Unruh said that earning the innovation award and hearing the successes of their clients validate the work that they do. “A lot of our work is word of mouth,” he said. “This is a helping profession, and we’re helping people make good decisions.”