Ever dream of starting your own business? Maybe the idea remains just that: A dream of nurturing your superpower – perhaps a talent, skill, knowledge, craft, recipe or idea – into a business you can build. If you only knew where to start.
Or maybe you’ve been your own boss for a while. When your small business runs smoothly, no job is better. Sooner or later, though, a stumble happens. Or your big break finally appears – but just beyond your grasp. During challenges, your business can seem vulnerable and alone, and out-resourced by corporate competition everywhere you look.
Sounds familiar? You need to make a call.
With 13 locations, the University of Houston Texas Gulf Coast Small Business Development Center (SBDC) Network helpsentrepreneurs and small-business owners start or expand their businesses, access capital, bring innovative ideas to market, improve productivity andincrease profitability. All advising services are offered at no-charge to clients.
The SBDC, a program within the C.T. Bauer College of Business, was recently awarded a $2.9 million grant from the U.S. Small Business Administration to cover programs for this year. That federal funding is also matched by the State of Texas.
“We focus on several core areas. First is business advising and second is the business training and education,” said Steve Lawrence, University of Houston research professor and executive director of the UH Texas Gulf Coast SBDC Network.“We can also provide market research and review materials, including demographic data, competition, pricing, what the market is like, and who’s already there. A fourth area we call PTAC – the Procurement Technical Assistance Center – serves people who wish to do business with state, county, local or federal government.”
Headquartered at 1455 West Loop South, in the Galleria area, the SBDC serves 32 counties throughout Southeast Texas. These days, Lawrence and his colleagues find the business of helping businesses especially brisk. While the “COVID economy” landed cruel blows on many, it opened unexpected opportunities.
“Small businesses are the engine of America. This economy, which is reportedly coming back strong, wouldn’t be if it wasn’t for small businesses. It’s not big businesses driving that, it’s small businesses. If you are prepared, there is opportunity out there,” Lawrence said.
Of the 5,000 clients served last year by the SBDC (the total varies widely each year), a large percentage were minority entrepreneurs and female clients.
“Now more than ever, we are focused on outreach to underserved communities. Most of the time, it’s just a simple matter of people not knowing what services are available or how to access the services. We want to fix that,” Lawrence said.
Who is the typical SBDC client? Lawrence doesn’t recognize one: “We help people start businesses, but we also help people who have been in business 10, 15, 20 years. Beyond that, there’s just not a typical client.”
The SBDC’s ever-changing pool of entrepreneurs with dreams often includes military veterans, professionals, franchisees, the unemployed, part-time business owners and even those recently released from incarceration.
"Those are a few examples of how broad our reach is. We don’t ask about citizenship, and we don’t have any quotas for people. We’re just here. We really want to help anybody who wants to start or expand a business,” Lawrence said.
He then added some final wisdom for early-stage entrepreneurs:
“The biggest nugget I can give is to be prepared: What is your market, who is your competition, how does your pricing compare, and how is your product different from the other guy’s? If you can answer those questions, and there’s a story there, there is a possibility you can be successful.”
Do you have an entrepreneur’s dream? Consider two steps: First, check out the University of Houston Texas Gulf Coast Small Business Development Center. Second, set the initial appointment – either online or by phone at (713) 752-8400.