From Big Idea to Business

by Kevin Evans
Illinois Small Business Development Center at Bradley University

The resource you need, when you need it…

For many entrepreneurs, the venture starts with a big idea. Realizing this life-changing, industry-altering, awe-inspiring theory of how to change the world has just dropped in your lap, you set about attempting to figure out how to turn your big idea into a business. Now come the questions.

First, the obvious ones: Where can I find the material to manufacture? Can I get supplies for a good price? How many people will I need to hire? Can I afford them? A million questions of…. How do I? Where do I? Can I? How much? And especially, whether or not I should?

The Need for Answers
As a small business owner, you wear many different hats. You show up before sunrise as groundskeeper, and then you quickly become mail clerk, bookkeeper, receptionist, accounts payable clerk, sales agent, shipping agent and janitor, before ending the day with research for the challenges of tomorrow. Such is the life of owning a small business.

The skills required from these varied duties push you further out of your comfort zone. You are faced with daily questions. What are we required to do legally? What reports do we need to have… daily, weekly and monthly? How can we produce them? Is there software that can help us? And on it goes. Whether you are an early-stage entrepreneur in pre-launch or a second-generation small business owner, questions are the common thread. While these questions are different for everyone, the need for answers remains.

Serving the five counties of Peoria, Tazewell, Woodford, Stark and Fulton, the Illinois Small Business Development Center (SBDC) at Bradley University provides resources and technical assistance to startups and existing businesses. Small business owners and aspiring entrepreneurs can go to Illinois SBDC at Bradley for free, face-to-face business consulting and at-cost training on writing business plans, accessing capital, marketing, regulatory compliance, international trade and more.

The areas of service provided by the Illinois SBDC at Bradley include procurement, technical assistance, technology commercialization, international trade and of course, general business development. Rather than list all the forms technical assistance might take, for example, perhaps a more effective way to share these services is to highlight a few specific businesses which have made use of them.

Case Studies
An entrepreneur recently came into the Illinois SBDC at Bradley with an idea to launch an online business centered around crowdfunding. The initial assistance needed during the pre-launch phase included determining the appropriate legal structure and obtaining tax identification numbers. During the build phase, the needs shifted to customer discovery and connecting with other key resources. Once built and launched, they shifted again to market research, marketing and acquisition of additional capital.

For the most part, the company has successfully concluded its fundraising campaigns and is now looking toward strategic planning for the future. The Illinois SBDC at Bradley has been able to provide resources to assist this owner with key resources at the most relevant times.

A second example of a business looking for help involves an employee of a commercial cleaning service who decided to launch her own cleaning service. Not knowing how to get started, she turned to the Illinois SBDC at Bradley. The legal form the business would take was the initial need. Contract negotiations and costing were high priorities, resulting from bids which were due in very short order. Upon successfully winning contracts, the needs again shifted to hiring and onboarding employees. The next issue involved payroll establishment, which rapidly became payroll management and ultimately, the acquisition of capital largely related to payroll.

A Real Impact
Implied in each of these examples is the ongoing interaction between the business and the Illinois SBDC at Bradley. You can reach out to the center with issues and request assistance from the staff members, who bring significant experience in a widely varied array of business disciplines. Suffice it to say, each is highly qualified and very impressive. Here are some highlights from 2016 of the economic impact attributable to the Illinois SBDC at Bradley:

  • Jobs created: 60;
  • Jobs retained: 420;
  • Export sales increase: $2 million;
  • Business startups: 13;
  • Business expansions: 11;
  • Patents and trademarks: 8;
  • Government contracts: $200 million.

These examples demonstrate the scope of available services and the diversity of businesses seeking assistance from the center. Whether you are preparing to launch a software-based business that lives on the internet or a brick-and-mortar with a more traditional product or service offering, the Illinois SBDC at Bradley can provide resources that offer solutions to the questions you are confronting. Perhaps this article will inform and inspire you to seek assistance.

Small businesses are the primary economic engine in most communities across the U.S. Our community is no different, although sometimes that fact is overshadowed due to our good fortune of having a number of large employers call this region home. The Illinois SBDC at Bradley has been instrumental in supporting this growing ecosystem and providing infrastructure for the growth and development of small businesses in our community. Whether you are struggling for answers or looking for validation for decisions you are contemplating, add this resource to your toolkit. iBi

More information about the Illinois SBDC at Bradley is available at bradley.edu/academic/colleges/fcba/centers/turner or by calling (309) 677-2992.

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