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Knowing What You Don't Know

Maureen_TiernanSavvy entrepreneurs know when and where to ask for help

It's an old joke that women will ask for directions while men won't. Unfair? Perhaps. But, three very savvy New Jersey business women, navigating uncertain or potentially rocky roads on the path to entrepreneurial success, were smart enough to recognize that they needed a little direction – and to ask for it. These women, owners of Ocean City Seafood in Ocean County; Riverview Bark in Hudson County and Wincey Co in Union County, sought help from UCEDC and reaped the benefits.

Each of the three women ran into a bit of a brick wall in starting or sustaining her business and sought direction to get around it. When Kathi Sica realized she needed more money to boost her business, Ocean City Seafood, she turned to UCEDC. When Melissa Cullen recognized she needed some business training to launch her self-serve pet-grooming business, she turned to UCEDC. Wincey Terry did the same when she needed a boost to open up new avenues to sustain her longtime arts education business, Wincey Co.

When Ms. Sica faced the summer of 2010 – the busiest and most critical season for her Ocean City Seafood business – she knew she needed to put more money into it to acquire equipment that would help meet a growing demand from the public. Ms. Sica had just bought out her partner the year before and had already invested a lot of her own money.

"SBA lenders didn't want to deal with me, because I didn't want to borrow as much as $250,000" recalls Sica. "I just needed a little help, and I couldn't have expanded the business the way I needed to without UCEDC." UCEDC's Microloan Program provides loans from $500 to $50,000 to new and existing businesses. According to Ms. Sica, UCEDC loan officer, Paula Star, was very proactive, visiting the storefront, reviewing Ocean City Seafood's business plan, getting to know Kathi and her business. Ms. Sica secured a $25,000 loan that was useful for expanding the business to purchase soup warmers, a pizza oven, an extra fryer -- all the equipment necessary to get through the summer of 2010. With another year left on the property lease, Kathi will likely seek new digs in the near future and may in fact revisit UCEDC for support.

Melissa Cullen's dream of opening her own business was also boosted by UCEDC – this time, in the form of entrepreneurial training. "I knew what I wanted to do...I just wasn't sure about how to get it done," says Cullen.

She enrolled in UCEDC's Entrepreneurial Training Initiative, which included a self-assessment tool and a two-part, seven-session workshop culminating in a complete business plan. She also benefitted from18 months of support from a UCEDC business mentor to help navigate the issues many small businesses encounter. "I was so glad when I found UCEDC. They explained all the little things I never would have thought of," she recalls.

Initially considering a 5,000 square foot facility, she learned through the program that insurance would be prohibitive. She settled on a cozy 300 square feet facility across from Riverview Park and called her business Riverview Bark. The training program helped Melissa consider all sorts of elements in addition to space and location -- from marketing to permits, workspace, hiring, insurance, water pressure, infrastructure and more. She returned to UCEDC for a $12,000 microloan and still shoots her business mentor emails with questions all the time.

For Wincey Terry, a successful woman entrepreneur since 1987, the challenge was a little different. It wasn't about how to start the business, but mining new opportunities to provide her arts education programs and services. So Wincey turned to UCEDC's Procurement Technical Assistance Center (PTAC) program for help in finding and securing government contracts.

The program helped Wincey customize her company's services, enter into the bid matching service and provided training and assistance for preparing and submitting a bid. PTAC also offers assistance with pre-and post-award contract administration and free training seminars. Terry proudly tells the story of how one school district phoned her to let her know how very impressed they were with her RFP submission, and that it, in fact, was more professionally developed than bids they'd been receiving from companies who regularly bid for years.

Whether you are starting, sustaining or growing your business, having the right resource in your corner is key. Non-profit economic development corporations, like UCEDC, are in business to help small businesses and offer a wealth of tools, talent and funding options.

"As owners, we have all the hopes and dreams, but they (UCEDC) helped us realize those dreams through practical solutions," says Cullen. "All you have to do is ask."

Maureen Tinen is president of UCEDC (www.ucedc.com), a non-profit economic development corporation serving the New Jersey small business community for over 30 years. UCEDC provides free financial, technical and community development assistance to businesses including access to capital, government contract opportunities, technical assistance, training and mentoring, and economic, demographic and market data.
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Tuesday, 26 September 2023
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