Program to mentor small businesses

Published 7:39 pm Thursday, February 19, 2015

Small startup businesses that are in need of mentorship to grow are encouraged to participate in a new program being sponsored by the Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce and Small Business Development Center.

The program starts March 20, but potential protégés are asked to respond as soon as possible.

Jim Carroll, the chamber’s vice president for small business and the executive director of the Small Business Development Center, said Mark Johnson of SunTrust Bank alerted him to the PROPEL Mentor-Protégé Program that was being conducted successfully in Knoxville, Tenn. Program participants had created 90 new jobs and more than $50 million in economic impact for that region since 2009.

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Carroll traveled to Knoxville and spent about two days observing the workings of the program. He decided to put it to use here in Hampton Roads.

“When a small business owner looks to grow a business — take it from Stage 1 to Stage 2 or from birth to Stage 1 — one of the biggest challenges they have is not really understanding what strategies or courses of action to take to successfully grow the business,” Carroll said.

“They may run the risk of making mistakes, spending money where they shouldn’t have to spend money. There’s a whole wealth of things that have to be taken into consideration.”

Carroll said programs in this area in the past have given a lot of information but had very little, if any, follow-up to teach business owners how to put the information to good use.

This new program not only will give information but also will provide a training program and mentorship during the course of two years.

“It now gives us a three-legged stool, with each leg being the same length, and the stool is stable, and the business owner can sit on it,” Carroll said.

The mentoring business owners are being chosen from a large pool of available candidates from the Chamber, the Small Business Development Center, and from the Hampton Roads Chapter of the Entrepreneur Organization and Retail Alliance, two supporting organizations.

“We have some very, very successful and very, very community-oriented small business owners,” Carroll said.

The program will differ in one key respect from the Knoxville program — it will have a separate track for retail businesses.

“Retail is its own beast,” Carroll said. “They have issues that other small business owners can’t even begin to address, and conversely, other small businesses have issues that retail doesn’t care about.”

Carroll said six businesses are signed up for the program so far, but there is a shortage on the retail side.

The class is $900 a year each year of the two-year program. It includes a membership to the Chamber of Commerce or the Retail Alliance.

“Part of growing your business is getting tied in to the respective communities,” Carroll said.

If a business is already a member, the fee drops to $600 per year.

Carroll is confident participating businesses will see the benefits of the program.

“We really want to try to bring them into the community and make them more aware of what the community has in the way of opportunities, in the way of resources and tools so that they can address their challenges,” Carroll said. “You’re really getting it right from the source.”

The program is being funded through a Portable Assistance Grant from the U.S. Small Business Administration as well as a donation from SunTrust.

Call Carroll at 664-2595 for more information or to sign up for the program. The original sign-up deadline has been extended to at least Feb. 25, Carroll said.