By Wendy Migdal
In spite of pandemic-related woes that still plague the nation, entrepreneurship is alive and well in Prince William. Here’s a bellwether: Recently the Mason SBDC completed a 10-week class for budding entrepreneurs in which 50 people applied during the two weeks that registration was open. It was also
their first hybrid event since the pandemic started.
“We’re seeing a strong appetite for people willing to start a business. And it’s as robust as ever in terms of business owners seeking advice,” said Timm Johnson, director of the Mason SBDC.
A Slew of Services
The Mason SBDC helps new business owners get started in myriad ways: identifying a market, working through their business plan, taking legal and marketing classes and obtaining funding. New businesses are
only part of their target, however. It also serves as a resource for existing business owners and provides a place where they can talk over issues or potential expansion.
For example, a psychology firm needed to bring in new clients. After examining their digital footprint, the SBDC suggested the firm needed to revamp their website and access social media channels. They provided the same advice a marketing firm would provide, for free. The psychology firm made the changes and saw growth in their business.
“We really strive to build long-term relationships. Our goal is to provide five hours of counseling to every entrepreneur who walks through the door. And that’s just the floor,” said Johnson.
Johnson believes some of the greatest value the SBDC offers is through their one-on-one counseling. Most counselors work about three days a week, and the SBDC can also connect people with subject matter experts and industry leaders. “We want business owners to know they always have someone that they can turn to. it’s not about doing it by yourself, it’s about doing it with your community,” he said.
Small Business in Prince William
To no one’s surprise, Johnson says they probably see more construction-related businesses in Prince William than in other parts of Northern Virginia. But he hastens to add they see so many businesses there isn’t one industry that dominates.
“We helped about 1700 people in 2020 and will probably help about 2000 by the end of 2021,” Johnson said.
The Mason SBDC is located in Fairfax and serves Fairfax, Arlington, Prince William and the cities of Manassas and Fairfax. It’s also the lead SBDC for the state of Virginia and partners with 27 centers around the state, mostly at universities. The federal government provides funding to all SBDCs; the states provide matching funds. They receive additional monies from the economic development offices of Prince William and the city of Manassas. The connection isn’t just financial though; they work closely with the city’s department of economic development.
“Our outreach programs have been pretty effective at reaching minorities,” said Johnson. “Right now, about 58% of our clients are either Black, Hispanic, Asian, Native American or Hawaiian/Pacific.”
The SBDC is working to increase their reach within the Hispanic community and has hired a Spanish language counselor, translated some content into Spanish and provided counseling services in Spanish.
“We’ve found that members of this group don’t often reach outside their local community. We want to do more to foster relationships with them and within their communities, roundtables where people can come together to learn and to get advice,” he said.
Helping Others Helps Everyone
“As you see someone through their journey and you see their success, it’s very rewarding. It’s a dream job,” Johnson said. For each business that’s aided on their journey, it’s as though a pebble is dropped in a pond. The ripples expand outward. he adds, “Helping the collective business community makes a better community all around. Success raises all boats, it floats all boats.”
Wendy Migdal is a freelance writer who has lived in the Northern/Central Virginia area since 2000. She has written extensively for local publications and also works for online educational companies.