Incubator eyes outlying areas

Incubator eyes outlying areas

March 29th, 2011 by Ellis Smith in Business Around the Region

Contributed drawing Renovation plans for the Business Development Center at 100 Cherokee Boulevard in Chattanooga.

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Entrepreneurs with a great idea for a widget don't always have the business sense to profit from it.

Great attorneys can be poor marketers. Skilled doctors may make bad accountants.

The cure, often enough, is worse than the disease. Forbes magazine reports a typical business consultant charges from $175 to $294 per hour, a steep price for a businessman with little cash on hand.

That's where Leo LeBlanc, director of the Small Business Development Center, comes in.

In 2010, LeBlanc's group created 107 jobs and its efforts led to nearly $1.92 million in capital investment locally, he said.

John Kerns, owner of Preferred Care at Home, a home care outfit in the Business Development Center, was one of 1,200 entrepreneurs in 2010 who attended a seminar or solicited business counseling from LeBlanc's business experts.

"When you start a business, everything that you experience, you have to experience for the first time," Kerns said. "In the first three months, I wore every single hat, so not only did I have to manage the money but I also had to do the marketing, the hiring and firing - every task was mine to do."

seeking rural startups

FAST FACT

About 30 percent of startup companies fail in their first two years and only about half survive for five or more years, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration

Bankrolled with about $400,000 in contributions from the Small Business Administration, Chattanooga State, the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce and others, LeBlanc and his team offer free business seminars and counseling to any businessman who wants them, no strings attached.

For many years, the group has toiled away in the shadow of the former American Lava building where they work, which at present is Tennessee's largest business incubator, he said.

Chattanooga's incubator has won national attention from U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann (R-Tenn.), who praised local efforts at getting small businesses off the ground.

With the local economy coming back, now is a critical time to reach out to entrepreneurs, LeBlanc said. With that in mind, he's combining an overall marketing push with a program to reach out to rural entrepreneurs.

"We are doing more with existing businesses in town, and we want to branch out and expand as well," LeBlanc said.

With his team of business experts, LeBlanc helped 396 business owners in 2010 overcome common problems such as cash management, learn how to use QuickBooks software and participate in government contracts.

"We like to talk to them early in the process so we can point them in the right direction," said Jules Doux, a counselor with an MBA who has coached entrepreneurs for nearly a decade.

from dream to cash flow

Where entrepreneurs come from

(2010-2011)

  • Hamilton County, 598

  • Walker County, 26

  • Bradley County, 13

  • Catoosa County, 13

  • Marion County, eight

  • Rhea County, seven

  • McMinn County, four

  • Whitfield County, four

  • Grundy County, three

  • Sequatchie County, three

  • Dade County,three

  • Meigs County, two

  • Franklin County, two

  • Chattooga, one

Source: Chattanooga Small Business Development Center

If a person walks in with nothing but a dream, he points them toward the free small business orientation class. Someone with more experience may need additional one-on-one counseling.

Doux currently splits his time between Chattanooga and outlying counties, including Franklin, Sequatchie, Rhea and VanBuren, thanks to an federal Small Business Administration grant that allows him to work more in outlying areas.

Doux, along with LeBlanc and Jeff Olingy, work to spread awareness of the development center's services across the region.

"I had a small business for 10 years, and I didn't know this place existed until I applied for a job here," Doux said.

marketing services

The lack of awareness is the problem they're currently tackling.

"People think because we're in this building, we only serve those in this building, but we serve the Chattanooga region," said Olingy. "We want to grow this area,"

They plan to kick start the plan by working more closely with area councils of the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce. A new advistory council will supply ideas and help communicate with local people.

"It's going to be a lot of feet on the street," Olingy said.

Bill Noble, who has worked at the the incubator as a councilor for four years, said he measures success with his clients in a variety of ways.

"Some people didn't need to be in business, because they were willing to bet the family home on something where there weren't all the resources necessary to make it work," he said. "If we can talk them out of that, it's a success."

Contact staff writer Ellis Smith at esmith@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6315.