For Paul Bardack, the staff members at the Maryland Small Business Development Center (SBDC) are even more experienced than a typical business consultant or trainer, in terms of experience and credentials.
“We tend to be a bit more accomplished than you’d find in private sector consulting firms,” said Bardack, executive director.
That comes in handy when budding entrepreneurs or experienced executives look to the SBDC to help get their firms off the ground or nourish it to grow.
Started in 1979, the SBDC is part of the national network that helps more than 500,000 U.S. businesses each year.
The idea is to link private companies, government, higher education and local economic development organizations.
This network — a partnership among the U.S. Small Business Administration, the state of Maryland and the University of Maryland College Park — then provides small businesses high-quality, confidential consulting and training, as well as market and industry research.
The organization includes 45 staff members located throughout the state, serving in 23 counties and Baltimore City.
“We make people’s entrepreneurial dreams come true,” Bardack said.
And that work is essentially divided into three main categories, which are outlined on the SBDC website.
Free consulting services to prospective entrepreneurs and for those more experienced begin with a survey to quickly gauge how far along people are in their operations, and what sort of help they may require.
It’s done on a one-on-one, intense, ongoing basis. There’s a lot of hand-holding to make sure the client benefits over the long haul, Bardack said. “We’ll be with them for weeks or months at a time.”
The site’s CEO Accelerator offers business leaders experienced guidance on everything from raising money and gaining customers and employees, to making high-impact presentations and building equity to sell. Low-cost training services, meanwhile, are typically carried out in small classes. The topic could be very basic, like how to prepare a business plan. Or things can get fairly esoteric, like understanding how to calculate various ratios, maintain tax records or determine proper pricing.
The SBDC website has an events calendar that’s organized by topic and geographic location, which is arranged in color-coded text. Many of the events are held on college campuses, but SBDC staff can also visit companies at their locations too.
“We are very flexible and willing to meet clients in the place that best helps us understand their needs and business,” Bardack said.
Maryland, for instance, is home to a rapidly developing technology sector. From cybersecurity to biosciences, engineering, information technology, agriculture and more, the SBDC Technology Support Center is focused on developing new firms from idea inception to market deployment.
Different parts of the state also boast their own economic engines, like with sustainable agriculture, recreational tourism, manufacturing and various services. The organization is stepping up its collaboration with the Main Street Maryland Program, helping restaurants and retail take root in Maryland’s smaller cities and towns.
The SBDC has specialized training for restauranteurs and retailers, whether they’re talking about a brick-and-mortar location or an online e-commerce platform, or both. And still, there’s no requirement a firm be involved in any of those sectors to get help.
Spanish speaking audiences can already turn to the SBDC’s Centro Hispano de Negocios, or Hispanic Business Center. But Bardack said the organization is looking to expand its work reaching out to Spanish speaking audiences.
And he’s looking to do more in the city and county of Baltimore.
For businesses recovering from a natural disaster, like the recent floods in Ellicott City, the organization can move quickly to get operations back up and running.
During the two recent tragic floods, entities from the federal, state and local levels of government were on the scene providing services.
“The glue that held it all together was our staff,” Bardack said. “I’m so proud that each time those floods happened, our staff pretty much was there around the clock, working with entrepreneurs, connecting them with the resources they needed to bolster their recovery.”
The SBDC also works to help enterprises get the funding they need.
The organization has maintained good relationships with lenders and equity investors throughout the state, Bardack said.
Once the staff’s experts are satisfied a firm’s business plans and records are in place, and it is poised for growth, they’ll go ahead and make the introductions and help entrepreneurs obtain the debt or equity financing they’re seeking, he said.
“The quality of our work is so well known in the lending and investing community, that when we bring it forward, the client has a head start. And that can make all the difference in the world.”
This article is featured in the 2019 edition of The Daily Record’s Expanding Opportunities Resource Guide for Small, Minority and Women Businesses. Published in conjunction with the Governor’s Office of Small, Minority & Women Business Affairs, Expanding Opportunities explores diversity, entrepreneurship and innovation in Maryland’s small business community. Read more from Expanding Opportunities on this website or read the digital edition.