Would-be entrepreneurs flock to groups that provide counsel | NevadaAppeal.com
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Would-be entrepreneurs flock to groups that provide counsel

John Seelmeyer
Northern Nevada Business Weekly

As jobless workers – or workers who are worried about their futures – decide by the hundreds to launch their own businesses, groups that provide counsel to startups scramble to keep up with demand.

Judith Hepburn, area manager for the Small Business Administration in Reno, says anywhere from a third to a half of the calls she fields these days come from people looking for guidance in launching a business.

“They need someone to help them with the business plan, and they need someone to see if the idea is feasible,” says Hepburn, who refers entrepreneurs to SCORE and other counseling groups.

SCORE, a cadre of retired business executives who volunteer to counsel small businesses, draws a full house to each of the orientation workshops it offers to potential small business owners in the area.

Judy Haar, chair of SCORE’s northern Nevada chapter, says the group offers the free two-hour workshops three or four times a month, and registrations fill quickly.

Subjects in the workshops range from personality assessments of successful business owners to a quick overview of business planning.

The workshops, Haar says, provide enough information to dissuade some would-be entrepreneurs from taking a step that might end in failure. Others remain undaunted, but get a hard slap from the economy as they often learn that they can’t tap bank loans, credit cards or home-equity lines for startup capital.

“The problem becomes money,” Haar says. “Money isn’t available.”

SCORE’s 41 volunteer counselors work with about 2,000 companies a year, and the surge in demand for counseling has led Haar to voice an urgent call for more volunteers.

“We’re looking for some good counselors, and we’re looking for them now,” she says.

The Nevada Microenterprise Initiative, which makes loans up to $35,000 to small businesses, saw its lending grow to $769,000 in 2009 from $688,000 a year earlier.

“The big driver has been existing businesses that can’t access working capital in any other way,” says Deborah Prout, the nonprofit’s president and chief executive officer.

Still, she says 42 percent of the 47 loans the microenterprise initiative made last year went to start-up businesses.

The potential entrepreneurs seeking counseling services from Nevada Microenterprise Initiative also has risen dramatically in recent months, Prout says.

Like SCORE volunteers, counselors at the microenterprise group try to caution entrepreneurs about the challenges of opening a business – particularly a restaurant or a retail establishment – during a difficult recession.

“A dream deferred doesn’t need to be a dream denied,” Prout tells them.