Economy pushes more Manatee business start-ups: Manasota SCORE offers pilot project

SARASOTA — Beth Hillard kept coming up empty in her job search.

Employers told her she was over qualified.

Then they told her she was under qualified.

“I thought for several months, ‘What was I going to do?’” Hillard said. “What was I good at?”

A former real estate agent, Hillard decided to start an online business that markets privately-owned vacation rental homes and provides concierge services to tourists.

The Sarasota resident knows she’s attempting the ultimate risk in this economy — starting a new business. However, she found herself in good company last week as she sat in an Argosy University classroom in Sarasota with 12 other aspiring entrepreneurs. All were attending the first installment in a series of five new workshops SCORE is testing at select chapters this year.

The Service Corps of Retired Executives gives small businesses advice with the help of 12,400 volunteers nationwide. It is a business resource partner with the Small Business Administration.

SCORE estimates it helps about 20,000 business startups a year and has helped businesses like Vera Bradley Designs and Jelly Belly Candy get off the ground.

Now, SCORE is taking a more aggressive approach to helping startups with QuickStart workshops.

Manasota SCORE — which serves Manatee and Sarasota counties — is one of 11 SCORE chapters nationwide to test the classes to determine whether they should be implemented at all 370 SCORE chapters nationally.

The workshops teach entrepreneurial rookies how to make their business ideas a reality. Better yet, it also covers the reality of running a business.

Class in session

As Manasota SCORE counselor Jon Stuart begins the Startup Basics class, the first of the five workshops, he starts with a review of the assumptions people have about business ownership.

“Myth No. 1,” Stuart says. “All I need is a good idea to be a successful entrepreneur.”

He then gives the reality.

“A good idea is a great start, but it takes hard work,” says Stuart, a retired marketing professor from the School of Business at Norfolk State University in Virginia.

“Myth No. 2,” Stuart recites. “You won’t have to work so hard or such long hours.”

He pauses.

“Wrong. You’re on the job 24-7, 365 days out of the year. This is your business. The only way it’s going to be successful is the drive and energy you put into it.”

His list goes on, and while it may sound discouraging, he’s giving students a brutally honest look at what it takes to launch and maintain a business.

The purpose of the five-part workshop series is to help aspiring business owners decide if they’re cut out to run a business.

Stuart says the classes will help people realize if their idea is feasible in this, or any, economy.

And it will help them calculate the financial investment their business plan may require.

“If some decide this is not what they want to do, I consider that a success,” Stuart says. “Because I probably saved that person thousands of dollars. Maybe their home.”

Startups on the rise

Many are pursuing a business startup these days, according to study by the Kauffman Foundation, which researches and supports entrepreneurship.

In May, the Kauffman Foundation released a study that shows business startups in 2009 reached their highest level in 14 years.

The study estimates that 558,000 new businesses were created each month in 2009, a 32 percent increase from the rate of monthly startups in 2008.

Seven out of 10 startups survive at least two years, according to the SBA, and about half survive five years.

“Challenging economic times can serve as a motivational boost to individuals who have been laid off to become their own employers and future job creators,” said Carl Schramm, president and chief executive officer of the Kauffman Foundation. “Because entrepreneurs drive the economy, the growth in 2009 business startups is encouraging and hopefully points to a hopeful trend in terms of our economic recovery.”

Recognizing the heightened interest in businesses startups, Jeannette Watling-Mills, chairwoman of Manasota SCORE, says the QuickStart series delves into all the necessities people need to consider when it comes to launching a business.

The introduction class, Startup Basics is free, and follow-up workshops that cost $25 each cover business concepts, marketing, financial projections and funding sources.

“It’s a program that’s going to allow people to get the help they need if they’re thinking about starting a business,” Watling-Mills said. “We’re very excited to start this news series and to be one of the 11 chapters test driving it.”

Students dream big

The struggle to find work served as Hillard’s motivation to take a crack at entrepreneurship. She’s already invested about $7,500 in getting her online vacation rental and concierge firm off the ground.

And after attending the first class in the QuickStart series, Hillard plans to take the remaining four courses offered to guide her in her business decisions.

“I’m trying to get a better understanding of the business world,” said Hillard, who had to give up her real estate position in Pennsylvania in October when her husband’s job at Verizon was transferred to Sarasota. “Work was very difficult for me to find. I feel very confident about the idea I’m working with now. I want to make sure I’m doing things correctly.”

The economy also put Jennifer Denton on a path to pursue entrepreneurship.

After getting laid off at a local manufacturing plant, Denton is pursuing an MBA at Argosy and has two business ideas in mind for starting a company.

One concept is a labor-only moving company, a business that would send out people capable of doing heavy-lifting on behalf of residents or companies that need furniture moved.

Another concept is a consulting type firm that would counsel employees on how to handle stress in the workplace.

“So many people are so stressed out with the economy,” Denton said. “I want to bring something to those people that helps them incorporate stress reduction in their lives.”

Another student, Jana Lee, is considering a wellness-type business. The licensed massage therapist works in chiropractic wellness care but wants to start a massage and yoga therapy-type business.

“I know this is what I’m supposed to be doing,” Lee says of massage therapy and yoga instruction. “I just need the education to show me how to develop this into what I want.”

Grace Gagliano, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 745-7081.