Texas Rising - Winter 2012

Winter 2012

SBDC supports Entrepreneurs

by Brian Wellborn

Don Proudfoot, director of the Tyler Junior College Small Business Development Center (SBDC), keeps a busy schedule providing would-be entrepreneurs and small businesses the tools they need to prosper.

“When most people start a business they’re not good with tax, finance and cash management issues,” Proudfoot says. “We provide assistance during that crucial learning period. One big thing about working with small businesses: it’s exciting.”

Don Proudfoot

“When most people start a business they’re not good with tax, finance and cash management issues.”

— Don Proudfoot,
Director Tyler SBDC

Small businesses — designated as 500 or fewer employees — account for 99 percent of all businesses nationwide, according to the Association of Small Business Development Centers. The association also credits small businesses with employing 53 percent of the private sector workforce and contributing more than half of the nation's private gross domestic product.

What an SBDC can offer

Nurturing businesses with just-in-time training, advice and resources is the mission of Proudfoot and his counterparts at about 1,000 SBDCs across the nation. Universities, colleges and state economic development agencies host SBDCs, and the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) funds a portion of their expenses.

Entrepreneurs Bill and Norma Niederhofer have worked with the SBDC in Tyler since founding their company, Lone Star Handicap Vans, five years ago. The company converts vans to make them wheelchair-accessible, and now has 14 workers.

“The SBDC was instrumental in getting our business going, and it’s a tough process,” Bill Niederhofer says. “Money is tight in today’s market, and Mr. Proudfoot helped us secure the loans we’ve needed during our growing phases. To be honest, I don’t know if we would have made it without their assistance.”

Niederhofer compliments SBDC’s advice in crafting the business plans and other documents that were essential to qualifying for SBA loans.

“The center worked with us in all that packaging, getting us ready to make a professional presentation,” Niederhofer says.

With that assistance, the Niederhofers have increased the square footage of their company’s northeast Texas store, added employees and increased the volume of business they conduct with other companies in their area.

The best place to start

In his 15 years at the SBDC, Proudfoot has noted some strategies that make launching a business as painless as possible. For example, he encourages people who have just had their “a-ha moment” — or potentially profitable idea — to get to an SBDC quickly.

“We recommend clients access the services of the SBDC prior to entering into agreements and forming a business entity,” he says. “At that point, we can discuss the business plan and strategic planning in general.”

Proudfoot is adamant that a strong business plan is imperative.

“If the business does not work on paper, it will not work in real time. Success follows passion and commitment. Without passion for the venture, do not attempt to enter that business.” TR

To locate an SBDC in your area, visit the America’s Small Business Development Center Network.

Where the rubber hits the road: starting a small business

Entrepreneurs Bill and Norma Niederhofer run Lone Star Handicap Vans LLC, a small business in Tyler that converts vans into wheelchair-accessible automobiles. As their business grew, Bill Niederhofer says the couple learned a number of lessons about entrepreneurialism, and he shares some of them below:

  • “If you have a good product, are willing to work hard and believe in your product, you’ll have a shot at success.”
  • “You need a good support team, like the folks at the college who can help you navigate your key issues.”
  • “You have to stay positive. You have to be willing to sacrifice, work long hours and not expect a lot of return in the beginning.”