Unlike most businesses, the Kansas University Small Business Development Center -- with a newly hired director -- has been helped by the tough economy.
Area officials said government leaders had opened their eyes to the vital role the center played during a slumping economy.
Curt Clinkinbeard, a Topeka business consultant, became the center's new director last month. He said he took the job, in part, because he sensed there was a renewed commitment by KU and state officials to expand the center's role in helping the area economy.
"I think in these times there is an even stronger understanding that entrepreneurship is a solution to our economic challenges," Clinkinbeard said.
The center, located in the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce building at 734 Vt., is designed to help small businesses or people who are thinking of a starting a small business.
In recent years, budget concerns have led to periodic rumblings that the center -- one of eight in Kansas -- might be consolidated with a similar center in Johnson County.
Clinkinbeard said he thought the center's future in Lawrence was secure.
"My decision to come here wasn't made without knowledge of the past," Clinkinbeard said. "But I took the pulse of the leaders before I came here, and they're real excited about the future."
The center, with a budget of $120,000, is jointly funded by KU, the SBA and city and county government.
William Fuerst, dean of KU's business school, said he was confident that talk of consolidating the Lawrence location was over.
"I think given the potential for new businesses to start in this area, it has a vital role to play here," Fuerst said. "KU is committed to having it here, and I believe the state office is committed to having it here.
"There are still budget problems to deal with, but we think it is a critical part of our economy, so we are committed to not only having it exist but to thrive."
One job at a time
Clinkinbeard said the center could play an important role in an economic recovery because small businesses accounted for about 75 percent of jobs created in the United States.
"It is not the type of thing that makes the paper, but when the bike shop down the street adds one job, it is a big deal," Clinkinbeard said. "It is a big deal because the cumulative affect of thousands of businesses adding one job is how this country grows."
The center helps small businesses by providing seminars on topics such as forming a business plan, dealing with taxes and operating a computer. The center also offers free, one-on-one counseling.
Clinkinbeard said the center helped budding entrepreneurs assess whether their ideas were feasible and find ways to get them funded and off the ground.
"There's a lot of assistance we can provide," Clinkinbeard said. "We don't do the work for them. We won't write their business plan for them. But we can show them how and help them along the way.
"We operate on the principle of 'teach a man how to fish.' We're not so much trying to create a business as we are an entrepreneur."
Clinkinbeard has experience in both running a business and advising small businesses. For 14 years he worked for Topeka-based Smith Orthopedics, which manufactured a variety of orthopedic and sports medicine products. He worked as a marketing manager and a vice president for the company before leaving the firm after it was sold.
He then started his own business consulting company, StriveCoaching. Through that business he began working for the Washburn Small Business Development Center in Topeka as a consultant.
"I've always loved being around entrepreneurs," Clinkinbeard said. "You are literally talking to people about their passion. They want to change their lives. It is so much more than a job to them."
Clinkinbeard said he expected the center to consult with about 250 businesses or individuals during 2003, and serve another 250 with its seminars. But he said the numbers could be higher because he thought more people would consider entrepreneurship as the economy sours.
"More people are starting to turn to us because they've been laid off, or they don't want to live in fear of being laid off, or maybe they just need a second income," Clinkinbeard said. "I think people also understand that entrepreneurship has changed. It used to be that you had to cut all ties, burn all bridges and make it the only thing you did.
"Now you can be an entrepreneur in your spare time. It is amazing what type of business a person can have out of their basement."
Clinkinbeard replaced Randee Brady, who resigned in January 2002 for medical reasons. The office remained open under an interim director, Jan M'Caelin. The center serves Douglas, Doniphan, Jefferson, Atchison, Leavenworth and Franklin counties.