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“You are the lifeblood of our country,” Sue Malone, director of marketing for Superior Financial Group, the top provider of SBA loans in the country, told those gathered for the Small Business & Entrepreneur Boot Camp. “We are the number one nation because of you.”
The Red River Region Business Incubator, along with the university and Small Business Development Center, held its first-ever boot camp Friday and Saturday. About 40 students attended the two-day event. Seventeen had scholarships from Texas Workforce Solutions, 10 from PEDC and one from a Mount Vernon Rotary Club.
“The biggest thing I see that stops businesses is a four letter word called fear,” Malone said. “The only thing that can stop you is you.”
The students learned about organizations such as the SBDC, which exists to help remove that fear. Its services are free.
“You have to have a passion for what you want to do. That passion in many cases has to lead to perseverance,” said Jim Struwe, an adviser with the Paris SBDC. “There’s a lot fear in this because it’s unknown.”
The group included several small business owners, a few students and people who showed up “because you can’t work for somebody.” And of course, everyone had an idea and a passion and a drive to pursue it.
“That’s the kicker,” said Steve Gilbert, director of the Paris Economic Development Corp. “You can’t be a successful entrepreneur if you don’t have fire in the belly.”
R3bi’s boot camp fired up the attendees enough that they felt it was worth the time and expense to attend. Reviews rated the overall event at about 4.6 out of 5.
“It was a tremendous boost for us and our business, and we feel extremely fortunate to have been a part of it,” one attendee wrote. “Kudos to you and your team!”
One major point that was hammered home several times is that every company needs a business plan.
The plan is frequently called a business’ roadmap to the future, but a good plan predicts the future. It helps increase the probability of success.
“The best business plans are dogeared,” Gottshalk said. “They’re edited. They’re corrected. They’re scrutinized constantly, but they’re usable.”
If the business plan isn’t leading in the direction you want to go, Gottshalk said, correct it or change direction.
Topics also included:
Lunch both days featured a discussion from a “real, live, risk-taking local entrepreneur.” The first was Shannon Arnold Foltz, who left the construction industry to be with her family and later founded Just Pies in West Tawakoni. Day two had Kelli Mallicote with Bodyguard Truck Accessories.
Foltz said she had no idea what she was getting into when she first started.
“I would highly, highly recommend doing the research first,” she said. “I did 8 months of research before I ever opened the doors. In that 8 months, I probably saved myself two heart attacks and probably about $50,000.”
Bodyguard is a true bootstrap success story that started with Grant Mallicote building truck bumpers as a hobby and has grown to the point that the company plans to move into commercial space in Paris this fall. But it remains a small business, with all that that entails.
“This is my life. I work at night. I work weekends. I work from my cell phone. I do this 24/7,” Kelli Mallicote said. “It’s not like I can just go off for a week and everything be OK.”
That sort of brutal honesty was evident throughout the boot camp. After all, working for yourself sounds great, but starting a new business means more hours, more responsibility, potentially less money the possibility the entrepreneur’s “better mousetrap” may not have a market.
“Why would you want to be in business for yourself in the first place?” R3bi Director Fred Green said. “There’s a lot an entrepreneur has to do that if you work for someone else you may not have to do.”
Only 20 percent of businesses survive their first five years, which means four out of every five fail. Incubators exist to help boost the odds of those four.
Even with all the economic woes today, this may be the best time ever to start a business, according to Hank Betke, a “serial entrepreneur” who as an R3bi mentor. They have tools available like Malone’s loan programs, the incubator and SBDC. And even if real unemployment is around 15 percent, that means 85 percent of the country is working.
“As a glass half-full kind of guy, I like those odds. I’m in,” he said. “You’re not alone. In my way of thinking, you’re in the right place at the right time. You’re making the right investment. You’re investing in yourself.”
Attendees were invited to participate in the $10,000 business plan competition R3bi is sponsoring through Sept. 5.
“The business plan competition is intended for any existing business that is making a change,” Green said. “It’s also intended for any entrepreneur who plans to start a business in the next 10 months and needs a business plan.”
Judges include professionals from Florida, Indiana, Texas Panhandle, Wyoming, California.
The winner also gets one free year in the incubator.
“You’re going to have us, and we’re going to be on your back for the next year,” Green said.