Greene County News Report
FAIRBORN – Owners of small businesses statewide will soon benefit from a centralized online toolbox, thanks to an initiative at Wright State University that will pool the collective knowledge and expertise of 27 centers around Ohio.
“This initiative will enable small businesses to solve problems quicker and strengthen their operations,” Earl Gregorich, director of the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) housed at Wright State’s Raj Soin College of Business, said. “And it will expand our coverage in some of the more remote areas so no one will be without resources needed to start, grow or sustain a successful business.”
The new eCenter will amount to a virtual Small Business Development Center. It will provide resources for business owners and startups that include general business news and information, training classes from vendors and all 27 centers, and advising, including direct, real-time connections to online advising by any counselor in the network.
The eCenter is designed to provide small businesses and startups with a convenient, no-cost way to get help and give them 24/7 access to resources.
“Business happens all day long,” Gregorich said. “A small business owner may not have time nine-to-five to attend class or talk to a counselor, but eCenter will be available to them all the time, and it can be tailored to their unique needs.”
Gregorich had been lobbying the state for such a virtual center for some time, so state officials finally put him in charge of developing it and coordinating its operation.
“We just weren’t keeping up with the times with our web technology and our connectivity with our clients when it came to the online stuff,” Gregorich said. “We were doing well with face-to-face interaction in our offices, but our client base was quickly moving to the digital age.”
Currently, there are about six different websites operated by the state to help entrepreneurs. There are also over 20 individual SBDC websites.
“There is no cohesiveness; they don’t look the same,” said Gregorich. “We have this ability to handle any kind of scenario that would come through the door, but we don’t have the connectivity to make it work effectively. Without a cohesive and consistent online presence, people can’t find us.”
Ohio’s SBDC network is the nation’s fifth largest, with its 27 centers serving the state’s 88 counties.
“There is a lot of territory here,” Gregorich said. “We still struggle to make contact with those clients that are in the outlying regions.”
Gregorich and outside designers are currently building the website. It could be up and running by the end of the summer.
“I might have a great class on how to teach somebody WordPress,” said Gregorich. “If no other center offers that class but wants to put it on in their area, they can access our material and offer the class in a consistent way.”
A company looking for marketing assistance could log in to the eCenter and see what courses, videos and white papers are available. The company could also view the profiles of all of the network’s counselors and identify a marketing specialist experienced in that company’s type of business.
“And if that counselor happens to be online at the time, the business owner can actually converse with them,” Gregorich said. “It’s real-time counseling, and it’s not territory bound.”
The website will also feature a learning-management system that offers more formal online training. In addition, it will have a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system to keep track of client information.
The Wright State SBDC serves as a place where small businesses can work with counselors and students who help the companies with business planning, marketing, computer technology and online services. It gives the companies talent resources and gives the students real-world experience.
The center averages at least 25 business startups every year, the retention of 500 to 600 jobs and sees up to $5 million in capital investments. In addition, Gregorich travels the state to hold training sessions for other centers, and he has helped develop a robust small-business program at Wright State for military veterans.
Recently, Wright State’s SBDC and International Trade Assistance Center were honored with the 2015 SBA Small Business Development Center Service Excellence and Innovation Award, which was announced in Columbus by the Small Business Administration.
Gregorich knows of no other state that has an online toolbox like his office is developing and hopes it becomes a model for other states.
“It is going to mean better access by the clients, it’s going to be a more efficient operation for SBDC and it is going to position us to compete in our market,” he said. “In the future, clients will see us as one cohesive, 27-unit assistance center built specifically for them.