Small Business Development Center helping Cape Coral's small businesses attain success

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Cape Coral is home to many small businesses. As a matter of fact, small businesses make up over 75% of the total businesses in the city.

Many of those who start a small business have difficulty navigating their way through the sea of the day to day details of running a business. Unfortunately, many fail within the first few years.

Over 30 years ago, Florida established the Small Business Development Center (SBDC), an organization whose primary focus is to help small business owners create and develop successful companies.

Currently, the regional SBDC works through the Florida Gulf Coast University Lutgert College of Business and has 10 locations throughout Southwest Florida.

Since 2006, the Cape Coral branch of the SBDC has been providing a number of services to local small business owners. From free one-on-one counseling to business planning to access to resources for financing, the SBDC offers a full range of services to assist small business owners.

Since 2007, the Cape Coral SBDC has seen tremendous success with those businesses they have helped. The SBDC has served nearly 2,000 clients in Cape Coral since 2007 and has seen tremendous success in the area. According to the organization, the SBDC has created 217 jobs, retained 191 jobs and secured over $1,000,000 in local contracts.

According to Cape Coral SBDC Certified Business Analyst Amanda Stirn, the key to the success has been working with small businesses from the beginning, “We sit down with the business owner and help organize the business idea initially. From there, we determine, the who, what, why, when, and where. We also try to determine if the business is a good fit for the owner. That is an integral part of the business being successful.”

The SBDC also assists the business owner in acquiring financing, “We have them run their credit report. If there are things on there it gives people a chance to clean up mistakes. We work with them to go on a six month or twelve month plan to help improve their credit.”

The SBDC also works closely with the city’s Economic Development Office in helping owners register their businesses and find the right location at the right cost, “We rely on them (EDO). We go back and forth with each other trying to support local businesses,” says Stirn.

For Stirn, all of the work she does is second nature. While only being in her current position at the SBDC since May of this year, Stirn has a lifetime of business consulting experience, “My real passion has always been business.”

Stirn’s passion started while she was a teenager. As a daughter of a father in the military, Stirn spent much of her childhood traveling. During her high school years, Stirn lived in Germany and did payroll and bookkeeping for an international teen center.

In 1990, she started as an internal auditor in New Mexico and has spent her adult life in the business world, “I have always liked the diversity and meeting all the different types of businesses.”

Stirn and her family moved to Cape Coral three years ago and immediately fell in love with the area. When the chance to manage the Cape Coral SBDC office became available earlier this year, Stirn says it was a perfect opportunity to work close to home with an organization she was familiar with and help upstart businesses achieve their dreams.

Stirn says many consultants forget that these businesses are not just companies, but people looking to fulfill that dream, “The piece that is missing many times from consulting is compassion for the business owner. This is their livelihood. This is who they are. Our job is not to crush them, but to uplift them.”

With the combination of experience, passion and compassion, Stirn has high expectations for the SBDC, “We want to double the capacity and number of clients we have helped over the last few years.”

The first step of that process is getting the word out that the organization is here to help, “Many businesses don’t even know we are here or the amount of services we offer,” says Stirn. “Most people are amazed when they come in and see just how much we can help.”

Part of the helping is ongoing programs and seminars for local business owners and their employees. As an example, in October, the SBDC will hold such seminars as a business plan seminar, marketing seminars, and a webinar for QuickBooks. Typically the seminars cost $20, and Stirn says everybody leaves with the information they need to move forward.

Stirn says she looks forward to working with the many small businesses that call Cape Coral home, “We want a long term relationship with the businesses of Cape Coral. We are only as successful as they are.”

For more information on the Small Business Development Center, call (239) 576-2737 or email Amanda Stirn at astirn@fgcu.edu. For information on upcoming seminars visit the SBDC's website at www.sbdc.fcgu.edu.