Kickstarting and maintaining a small business is a challenging but rewarding endeavor, but never has it been more difficult than in 2020. That’s where the University of Mary Washington Small Business Development Center (UMW SBDC) comes in.
UMW SBDC is a resource center that aids the small business community in Fredricksburg and beyond via management training, industrial and demographic research, and confidential one-on-one consulting with a focus on capital access and management planning.
Comprised of former business owners, the UMW SBDC is run by an experienced staff of people who have been there, done that. However, no one could have anticipated the impact COVID-19 would have on small businesses, and the UMW SBDC staff had to undergo special trainings to help them guide small business owners through these turbulent waters.
In the wake of the pandemic, the staff had to become experts in Economic Industry Disaster Loans—a loan that provides economic relief to small businesses and nonprofit organizations that are currently experiencing a temporary loss of revenue. Aside from helping businesses obtain loans like the EIDL, the UMW SBDC has been focused on applying for grants like Rebuild VA, which launched in August for small businesses and nonprofit organizations whose normal operations were disrupted by the pandemic, as well as the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.
UMW SBDC even obtained some CARES act grants of their own in order to provide more training and assistance. They grew an initiative called UMW Cares and had professors do one-on-one advising in their areas of expertise for UMW SBDC clients.
The state goal is to serve about 320 different businesses a year, and the UMW SBDC always exceeds that number by serving nearly 500. While they always tend to be over the goal, COVID has brought more people to them for funding help. So far, the UMW SBDC has helped small businesses apply for $5,650,000 in grants this year.
In the months since the pandemic hit, UMW SBDC director Susan Ball says there have been many lessons learned by her staff. Most of all, they recognize the importance of being flexible and adaptable. “The businesses who figured out how to do contactless deliveries have done well,” she says. “Some downtown shops immediately offered curbside pickup. Once they adapted instead of just closing down, they thrived.
“Everybody has seen the importance of being online,” says Susan. “Social media has always been important, but the businesses who weren’t already utilizing those platforms are having a harder time finding new customers.”
The UMW SBDC is available to anyone who is thinking about starting a small business, and Susan encourages everyone to visit umw.edu/sbdc to fill out a request for consulting. “We’re here for you and it’s much better for people to have someone to talk to if they’re thinking of starting a business instead of going out on their own,” she says. “We are all former business owners, and we love to help and see people succeed.”