Starting one’s own business can be challenging, but there are two different organizations housed on or next to the Cleveland State Community College campus which have set out to help local business owners in two distinct ways.
One of those is the Tennessee Small Business Development Center, which currently assists some 211 entrepreneurs as they either start or expand their businesses.
David Hudson, director of the TSBDC’s Cleveland office, said its mission is to help entrepreneurs “overcome obstacles” as they go from plan to profit. He also estimated that businesses aided so far this year have added more than $5 million to the local economy and created at least 32 new jobs.
While the TSCBC and the Cleveland Bradley Business Incubator nearby are often confused for each other because of their proximity, he said the business incubator differs because it serves as a physical location for businesses to rent space, while the TSBDC focuses on helping businesses start in the first place.
“We actually have quite a few clients in the incubator,” Hudson said.
The TSBDC location in Cleveland is funded by the U.S. Small Business Administration and Cleveland State. The TSBDC operates 20 centers and offices statewide, including 14 centers like the one in Cleveland. Many of the centers are located at or near community colleges.
The center offers a variety of free services to entrepreneurs, including regular workshops on everything from tax preparation to government contracting and one-on-one consultations to address everything from business plans to investments.
While there was a time when most business owners seeking the center’s help were brand new, Hudson said that has changed.
“Three to four years ago, we focused mostly on start-ups,” Hudson said.
Now, the center also helps older businesses that want to continue to grow by “focusing on whatever is holding the businesses back,” he said. After all, the businesses that were brand new three or four years ago have different priorities and needs than they once did.
He also said the office has seen a wide variety of people wanting to start new businesses — not just one demographic. Recent college graduates wanting to see their ideas realized right off the bat and retirees finding they have extra time for business ownership are just two types of clients with whom the center has worked.
Though Hudson said his office often fields phone calls asking for the business incubator’s office instead, he said the confusion has sometimes provided a good opportunity for some of his tenants looking for a place to house their businesses.
Hurley Buff, executive director of the Cleveland Bradley Business Incubator, said he appreciated that his tenants have been able to receive assistance from the TSBDC as they learn what being a first-time business owner really entails.
“They’ve been a godsend as far as giving an overview of the process,” Buff said.
The process of starting a business is more lengthy and complicated than some aspiring business owners initially expect, said TSBDC small business specialist Bob Hotchkiss.
He said some face financial issues like a lack of capital, the money and resources needed to get new companies open for business. Others have “the lack of what it really takes to run a business,” including a lack of knowledge about such factors as how many hours the owner’s workweek would actually require.
Once a business owner has sought the help of the center, Hudson said the center’s staff can measure success in three different ways. First, they can pay attention to the business’ capital contribution, or how much money it has and will add to the economy. Second and third, they can pay attention to how many new jobs have been created and how many can be retained each year.
While both the TSBDC and the business incubator are available to everyone — not just Cleveland State students, Hudson said their locations present good opportunities to the college’s students. He said a student could potentially study business at the college, open up a business in the incubator and use the advice and free services offered by the TSBDC.
Hudson said he was thankful to be working with Cleveland State to help businesses grow, and that he thought Buff would likely say the same.
The TSBDC is always accepting new clients, the staff said. For more information about the TSBDC, call 478-6247 or visit www.clevelandstatecc.edu/sbdc.