Small Business

Quaboag Valley CDC helping a small business to recover and grow after tornado.

August 28th, 2013 by

Tibbetts Optical is a 17 year old retail optical shop owned and operated by Brenda Tibbetts, a sole proprietor, for the past two and a half years. She's grown the business from gross sales of $101,055 in 2011 to $130,714 in 2012.  It is now a very attractive retail storefront business in downtown Monson.  Brenda is an active participant in the downtown merchants group.   

Brenda Tibbetts has 15 years of experience as an optician and a passion for “helping others feel good about their eyewear."  She was a manager at Lens Crafters for 10 years and also has two years experience teaching opticians. In late 2010, she purchased an existing practice in Monson that had been in operation for 15 years. Shortly after opening the business, the June 2011 tornado destroyed much of downtown Monson and blew the roof off Brenda’s store. Much of the refurbishing work, equipment, and inventory purchases were financed with two low interest rate credit cards.  However, the credit cards now carry rates as high as 20%.

Adding to the credit card burden, Brenda’s spouse, Raymond, who has his own drywall contracting company, recently injured his back.  This required surgery that will keep him out of work for more than 6 months.

A request for bank financing within the last year was declined due to the business’s high debt to income ratio and length of time in business.

Brenda asked QVCDC for assistance in preparing for another approach to a bank. QVCDC staff, augmented by consulting help from a Certified Public Accountant, completed a financial review and identified several steps Brenda could take to improve her financial position and record keeping. As a result, Brenda made significant changes in order to reduce expenses.  She made improvements to her accounting system and corrected previous errors. She learned what inventory moves and which is more profitable.

With help from Quaboag Valley CDC, Brenda identified that her main competition comes from a business in Palmer, and that she has some competition from WalMart in Ware.  Accordingly, she’s repositioned her business to feature her consultative selling skills, better selection of merchandise and fast and accurate service because she cuts many of her own lenses.

Due to her extensive industry contacts in western and central Massachusetts, Brenda receives many referrals to her shop from colleagues. She has demonstrated her ability to persevere through setbacks, and has the willingness and capacity to become more strategic in her business operations.

The assistance and improved finances helped Brenda obtain the capital for needed equipment.

QVCDC’s next steps with this client are to help her use the more accurate financial information to put together a financing package to refinance her high rate credit card debt.

By Gail Farnsworth French, Quaboag Valley CDC

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MACDC Explores Potential for Statewide Community Business Partnership

May 16th, 2011 by Joe Kriesberg

The Community Development Innovation Forum has helped to spur numerous efforts to expand and deepen collaboration with the goal of improving effectiveness and efficiency in the sector. With the help of new funding from Citi and Bank of America, MACDC is now leading a major planning effort to explore the efficacy and viability of a statewide partnership among CDCs and others who provide technical assistance to local entrepreneurs.

For years, MACDC members have helped entrepreneurs start, grow and sustain small businesses that provide jobs and opportunity for local communities. In 2010, our members served over 2,000 entrepreneurs develop business plans, find new locations and markets, access financing and deal with the slumping economy. CDCs have frequently partnered in these efforts with each other and with other organizations such as Small Business Development Centers, local governments, banks, and CDFIs (many of our members are CDFIs themselves.) Perhaps the most sustained and deepest of these partnerships has been the Community Business Network in Boston through which several CDCs have worked together since the mid 1990s.

Earlier this year, MACDC received funding from Citi and Bank of America to explore the potential for a statewide partnership that builds and expands on these earlier efforts. We formed a planning committee comprised of practitioners, public officials, bankers and scholars to guide our planning effort and hired two experienced consultants, Leslie Belay and Jason Friedman, to conduct research, planning and program design work.  Jason is examining best practices around the country and Leslie is conducting interviews and focus groups with stakeholders here in Massachusetts. At a recent meeting with the SBA and their partners, national SBA Administrator Karen Mills joined the meeting and voiced her strong support of the effort and specifically encouraged SBA partners like the SBDCs to partner with CDCs and vice versa.

The planning efforts has already identified several areas where collaboration could yield significant benefits. These could include: shared information technology and outcome measurement systems; shared protocols for intake, assessment and business plan assistance, shared expertise in specific sectors or areas of support (e.g. food industry, or green technologies); shared market research that would provide local businesses with access to better market data; joint partnerships with other organizations, professional development and training for practitioners, joint fundraising, and special projects.

We expect the planning process to proceed through the summer with the hopes of making a determination by early Fall as to whether such a Partnership makes sense. If we decide to move ahead, the next stage will include fundraising, recruitment of the initial class of members, and refinement of the program design, structure and services.

If you are interested in learning more or getting involved, please contact me.

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Entrepreneurship Week at MACDC

November 19th, 2010 by Joe Kriesberg

“Entrepreneurship is the single greatest force for social and economic wealth generation in the world.”

That’s a bold and perhaps provocative statement, but that is what Babson College President Len Schlesinger said at the graduation event for the Mel King Institute’s “Raising the Standard for Small Business Technical Assistance” training seminar this week.  And after spending much of National Entrepreneurship Week talking with and about entrepreneurs, I think he might be on to something.

While I can’t say it was planned this way, I did spend much of National Entrepreneurship Week focusing on how we can better support local entrepreneurs.

On Monday, I spoke on a panel at the “Access to Credit” Seminar sponsored by Bank of America in partnership with the Greater New England Minority Supplier Development Council.  The seminar talked about the challenges that minority-owned businesses were having obtaining credit from banks and how alternative lenders, including CDCs, CDFIs, and public agencies, could help fill the gap.

On Tuesday, I attended the second board meeting of the new Massachusetts Growth Capital Corporation where we voted to appoint Chuck Grigsby as interim President. Chuck is no stranger to MACDC. He has worked closely with us during his tenures at the Community Development Finance Corporation, the City of Boston and the Life Initiative and most recently chaired the Founding Committee for the Mel King Institute for Community Building.  The MGCC will be an important source of financing and technical advice for small businesses in Massachusetts and I'm thrilled to be working with Chuck and the other board members to build the MGCC into a great organization.

On Wednesday, I moderated a panel at the Statewide Conference on Immigrant Entrepreneurship sponsored by the Immigrant Learning  Center, Inc. and Babson College.  The panel focused on the role of Immigrant entrepreneurs in revitalizing urban neighborhoods and we had wonderful presentations from Paul Wantanabe, from UMASS Boston and the Institute for Asian American Studies, Allison Moronta from JPNDC, Long Nguyen from Viet Aid and Saul Perlera, from Perlera Real Estate in East Boston. Paul provided an overview of his report on this subject that documented the enormously vital role these entrepreneurs play in our neighborhoods, while Allison and Long discussed the challenges they face.  Saul told us his inspiring story of moving to Boston as a 16-year-old, undocumented immigrant from El Salvador, obtaining legal status thanks to legislation signed by President George H.W. Bush, becoming a citizen, starting a Real Estate firm and hiring 14 people – and now surviving the real estate crash so he can continue to provide jobs and services to his community.

The Conference included many other inspiring and informative speakers and demonstrated the vital role that immigrants are playing in our economy. It made many of us angry that these contributions are not recognized more widely, but also more determined to change the conversation nationally and locally.  I’m looking forward to working more closely with the Immigrant Learning Center in the coming year to advance policies and programs to support immigrant entrepreneurship

On Thursday, I returned to Babson College – Ranked #1 in Entrepreneurship Education for the 14th year in a row in 2010 – for the final session of the Mel King Institute’s “Raising the Standard for Small Business Technical Assistance” training seminar.   The Seminar was hosted by Babson and led by a wonderful team of instructors, including Elizabeth Thornton and Donna Stoddard from Babson College and Jason Friedman from Friedman Associates.  The seminar provided 36 hours of classroom instruction plus individualized assistance in between class sessions.  At the seminar on Thursday, participants from the Community Business Network shared with the others how they used the first session’s class on outcome measurement to inspire them to completely rethink their approach. They showed the group their new intake form, theory of change, outcome goals and indicators. Several of the other CDCs were so impressed that we are now talking about implementing the system at CDCs across the state!  This provides, I think, yet another example of the new openness to sharing and collaboration that we see throughout the field.

We were also joined on Thursday by Babson College President Len Schlesinger and the state’s economic development Secretary, Greg Bialecki who came to congratulate the participants on completing the Seminar. Secretary Bialecki highlighted the Governor’s commitment to entrepreneurship and innovation and said that the work of the CDCs fits squarely in that agenda. He also announced that the Growth Capital Corporation has allocated $600,000 to provide FY 2011 grants to small business technical assistance program and that the GCC intends to build on this to do more in the future. President Schlesinger gave an inspiring talk in which he made his comment about entrepreneurship being the single greatest force for social and economic wealth generation in the world and pledged to continue working with us to advance the field throughout the state. 

Len Schlesinger and Babson College define entrepreneurship as "a way of thinking and acting that is opportunity obsessed, holistic in approach, and leadership balanced."   That’s a good way to describe the entrepreneurs in our neighborhoods. It’s also a good description of many Community Developers.  Perhaps there is more to Len Schlesinger’s comment than we realized!

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Innovation in Action

April 9th, 2010 by Joe Kriesberg

The other day I read about a new report by New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli (with the help of the New York Council of Nonprofits) that found that 87 percent of nonprofit contracts with state government (of more than $50,000) were not approved prior to the nonprofits’ beginning their work. On average, new contracts were approved nine months after the contract start dates and renewals were five months late on average.  New York State is essentially relying on nonprofit organizations being so committed to their mission that they will risk their financial health to continue providing services without contracts. Indeed the entire system appears to depend on this commitment. 

The only thing about this report that might surprise CDC and non-profit leaders is the fact that a state agency finally documented the problem.  All mission-driven organizations confront this challenge all the time – how to balance money with mission. We must often complete substantial work on a project or program before receiving a fee or reimbursement and those payments rarely cover the full cost of delivering the service. Cash flow becomes a chronic challenge and organizations are unable to build up a health reserve fund. The resulting impact on fiscal health can be severe as the Non Profit Finance Fund recently documented in a report on CDC Fiscal Health that was completed as part of the Community Development Innovation Forum.  

Reversing these trends is a primary goal of the Community Development Innovation Forum. We have recently re-activated a group of stakeholders to develop recommendations for how the real estate development finance system can be reformed to better enable non-profit developers to achieve their missions in a financially sustainable manner. 

In the meantime, I have some very good news to report about a recent policy decision that moves us in the right direction. On April 6, at MACDC’s annual Lobby Day, Massachusetts Secretary of Housing and Economic Development Greg Bialecki, announced that he would forward commit $600,000 in FY 2011 funding for the small business technical assistance program so that he could double the size of recent grants to CDCs and other nonprofits and extend the term of their contracts by 6 months. By providing greater funding certainty and stability, the state will strengthen its organizational partners, promote longer term planning, enhance professional and program development and help leverage more private and federal money – without costing the state any extra money. 

 The Secretary’s announcement was in response to problems this program has had in past years when uncertainty about the state budget would cause substantial delays in the RFP and subsequent funding decisions. Groups sometimes had to wait several months into the fiscal year before learning whether they were going to be funded again and at what level.

 Secretary Bialecki’s creative solution was made possible by a generous commitment from Mass Development to provide $600,000 in funding to the program in FY 2010 and now FY 2011. Since these funds are not contingent on legislative approval of the state budget in June, the Secretary had the flexibility to think outside the box and create a solution that will benefit the state, the grantees and most importantly the small businesses that this program seeks to support. Now that is the type of Innovation that is worth celebrating!

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