Columbia class offers resources, guidance for exploring entrepreneurship

Damian Dean was sitting in a downtown Columbia conference room and listening to a presentation Wednesday afternoon when a lightbulb went off.

“I’m a bookworm, so I like to read,” he explained afterward. “The things that she was mentioning were some of the things that I (found) in my own personal research. So I was, like, ‘Lightbulb, ding!'”

Dean was one of seven participants in an “Exploring Entrepreneurship” class hosted by the Missouri Small Business & Technology Development Centers, or SBTDC.

He attended class because he wants to create a consulting firm that caters to churches and non-profits. His past work with those kinds of organizations has inspired him to start his own business.

The two-hour Exploring Entrepreneurship class is geared toward people, like Dean, who have recently started a business or are thinking about doing so. Its goal is to cover the basics of getting a business off the ground.

Virginia Wilson, retired director of small business development for the SBTDC, led the class, which is offered monthly for a $29 registration fee.

The SBTDC provides a variety of services and training, including free business counseling and classes on writing a business plan, managing a business and understanding financial statements.

Virginia Wilson (third from left) led the SBTDC’s Exploring Entrepreneurship class Wednesday, in Columbia. | Anna Kohls/Missouri Business Alert

“Helping make businesses successful, that’s our job,” Wilson said. “To help grow the economy, we all benefit from that.

“I think that’s where we play a large role is working with small businesses, from startups to … those existing businesses that are in the growth stage, and working with them and bringing our resources and consulting with them to help make them successful.”

Wilson said a main concern many people have when they think about starting a business is access to capital. She addressed why it is important to start building a relationship with a lender as early as possible, and she introduced the class to Brandon Kalista, a commercial loan officer at Hawthorn Bank.

Kalista discussed the loan application process and the importance of making a good impression with the lender.

“Make sure to come prepared to your first meeting with the lender,” he said. “That means making sure you have a solid, thorough, well-thought-out business plan already prepared.”

He encouraged attendees to devote sufficient time and attention to those business plans.

“We can always tell those who have worked on their business plans for a while and those who rushed it,” Kalista said.

He added that it’s important for entrepreneurs not to underestimate themselves when doing financial projections for their businesses.

Afterward, Dean said aspect of the program he liked was the personal connection the presenters had with class participants.

“If you have a question, even if you’re not comfortable in the setting, you can still get an answer,” he said, “because you have a name and a face of somebody who’s been there, done that multiple times and can help with that experience.”

He walked away from the class satisfied, saying he would encourage others to take advantage of what the SBTDC has to offer.

“I would suggest it to anyone,” Dean said. “Please, please, please use the information — the free information — that’s available to help you be successful as an entrepreneur.”

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