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Workshop dispenses help to minority entrepreneurs

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About 50 budding entrepreneurs on Thursday got invaluable advice that could propel them toward opening their own business.

They attended the first Small Business Assistance Workshop for Minority Business Owners and Entrepreneurs at the Gateway Building in downtown Peoria and learned what they need to do to access federal money and resources on their path to opening a business.

The workshop was fulfillment of a promise made by U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-17, back in February when she learned through a roundtable discussion that access to funds often prevents minority entrepreneurs from starting or expanding their business. She and Peoria City Councilwoman Denise Moore decided after that roundtable discussion at the Carver Center to hold workshops to impart the information such entrepreneurs need.

“The common denominator at those roundtable discussions was that a lot of people had a lot of good ideas, but no access to the capital they needed to make it happen,” Bustos said. “We want you to walk away from here tonight with the answers you need to get on your way.”

Bustos said she wanted to focus on minority entrepreneurs because she learned that only 2 percent of all U.S. Small Business Administration loans were made to minority businesses in 2015. “This workshop is a reflection of what we heard at the roundtable and we want people to know there is money to be loaned and how to get it,” she said.

One of the problems, she added, is that the SBA has no advertising budget to let it be known that it has money to loan. That needs to change, she said, because “Small business is the backbone of our economy.”

Bo Steiner from the SBA told the audience that they would learn not only how to access capital, but also how to access business counseling and where to find federal contracts that are geared toward small and minority owned businesses. “Most important, you will learn what you can do to best prepare yourself to apply for an SBA loan,” he said.

Tim Owen, special assets manager for Morton Community Bank, said he has been writing SBA loans since 1976 and has found lack of preparation is the largest impediment entrepreneurs face. “It doesn’t take six months to get an SBA loan is you are prepared. Remember, bankers love small business. We want you to succeed. There is a wealth of information here tonight for you; take advntage of it,” he said.

Among the tips he gave:

  • Convince yourself this is what you are going to do.
  • Account for yourself – salary, benefits, etc. – when developing your business plan.
  • Know what you don’t know, such as bookkeeping, and surround yourself with people who do.
  • Have an exit plan if a partnership implodes; that’s self-preservation.

“Business is all about numbers. Nothing else matters if you can’t make the numbers work. Use the tools that are available to you,” Owen said.

The event included a panel discussion moderated by Moore, with panelists consisting of bankers, business counselors and financial analysts.

About the Author
Paul Gordon is the editor of The Peorian after spending 29 years of indentured servitude at the Peoria Journal Star. He’s an award-winning writer, raconteur and song-and-dance man. He also went to a high school whose team name is the Alices (that’s Vincennes Lincoln High School in Indiana; you can look it up).