Growing small business in Nevada

A small business owner has an idea for expansion, but is not sure how to finance it. A mother of three who makes homemade jam would like to sell it commercially, but is intimidated by becoming an entrepreneur. A traveler sees a unique business franchise in another area and would like to replicate it in Nevada. A student's research has led to the development of a new product, but he doesn't know how to turn it into a viable business. Where do they go?

They go to the Nevada Small Business Development Center, headquartered in the University of Nevada, Reno College of Business. SBDCs are primarily funded by the U.S. Small Business Administration and receive matching funds from universities, governments and private businesses, including banks like Bank of Nevada and Wells Fargo in Nevada. They offer a variety of assistance to potential, new and expanding small businesses. In the year ending Sept. 30, 2016, the Nevada SBDC helped start 125 new businesses in the state. Their work helped create more than 475 jobs, and their clients realized more than $56 million in new financing.

Teach a man to fish

The majority of the Nevada SBDC's services, including one-on-one counseling, business management training and local economic and demographic research, are offered free of charge. The center's focus is on coaching small business owners and aspiring entrepreneurs to be successful for the long-term in Nevada's business climate.

"It is very important that each client develops their own business plan," State Director Sam Males ('76 MBA), who founded the office in 1985, said. "We are not creating the plan for them-we're talking them through it and coaxing out their own ideas. We encourage them to think about what will make their business successful: Are they different than the competition? Are they planning to locate in an area with a lot of potential for growth? We teach them to think like business people, because they need to keep thinking that way and planning that way throughout the life of their business."

With 14 offices throughout the state, Nevada SBDC counselors guide their clients through the challenges posed by starting a business in a particular geographic area.

"The needs of our rural clients are much different than our clients in Reno and Las Vegas," Males said. "We talk them through setting up online sales, how to market to people online, because they're not going to be able to rely on foot traffic like our urban clients can. We also offer financial expertise-which banks tend to finance what types of projects and how to prepare business plans that will increase their chances of being accepted for a loan. These relationships can be difficult to navigate."

From students to success stories

In addition to counselors with professional business experience, the Nevada SBDC's headquarters on the University of Nevada, Reno campus employs students from The College of Business. Depending on their level of experience, these student workers serve as demographic researchers, data analysts and marketing consultants, and often sit in on client meetings. By the time they graduate, students are able to add several years of business advising experience to their resumes.

One such student is Jennifer Ott ('13 MBA). Ott, who had a background in chemistry and experience in marketing and communications, was hired as a graduate assistant at the Nevada SBDC, where she worked as a counselor and project manager. At the same time, she created a business plan for her biochemical startup, EscaZyme, with one-on-one mentoring from Nevada SBDC Director of Counseling Rod Jorgensen. She entered the plan into the University's Sontag Entrepreneurship Competition, an annual challenge established by University alumnus Rick Sontag '66 M.S. (physics) to encourage students to develop business ideas. Ott's plan garnered the $50,000 grand prize.

"Rod was a grounding influence. He is a finance guy, not a scientist, so he was essential in helping me state my ideas in terms that lay people could understand," Ott said. "At the Nevada SBDC, I learned that the smartest thing you can do is work with people who can expose your weaknesses. If you just surround yourself with people who think like you and agree with you, you never grow and improve. The Nevada SBDC is great because they offer an informed set of eyes and a fresh perspective."

In addition to managing EscaZyme, which made its first sales in 2016, Ott now serves as the project manager at the University's Desert Farming Initiative, a program created through a partnership between the College of Business, the Nevada SBDC, the College of Agriculture, Biotechnology and Natural Resources and the Cooperative Extension and now managed by CABNR. The DFI uses urban greenhouses and hoop houses to train students and the community in agricultural entrepreneurship. Ott is frequently contacted by community members who are hoping to start farms, create food products or open restaurants in Nevada.

"We are in such a unique growing climate here, so we can't take growing practices from California or any other state and apply them to Nevada. By having a farm and using a variety of production methods, we can help both local farmers and the industry at large, we can provide education and training and we can talk with producers about marketing and sales," Ott said.

When those entrepreneurs need help developing and planning for their businesses, Ott refers them straight back to the Nevada SBDC.

To learn more about the Nevada Small Business Development Center, visit www.nsbdc.org or contact the office's Reno headquarters at 800-240-7094. To make a donation in support of the Nevada SBDC, please contact Mitch Klaich, director of development, at 775-682-6490 or mklaich@unr.edu.