Davis robotics company Barobo had a great mission: Using tech to teach math and coding in the classroom. Yet, five banks turned them down for a loan.
Enter the Capital Region Small Business Development Center. The federal government funds the group with tax dollars to support any entrepreneurs and small business growth in one-on-one sessions covering business plans, marketing efforts and other mentorship topics.
Scott Leslie, director of this area's SBDC, said they pointed Barobo to another lender—the Small Business Administration, which offers often-more accessible loans to startups."They had a great product through UC Davis with federal grants to turn their venture into a business," Leslie said. "We were able to help that person who had been turned down by five banks get a lender."
In a Q&A with Hacker Lab, Leslie spoke about the value of mentorship, Hacker Lab's new partnership to offer mentorship with SBDC and how anyone can access the services. "Because they're paid for by our taxdollars," Leslie said.
Hacker Lab is proud and glad for the partnership, when so many entrepreneurs simply could use a nudge in the right direction. Members of Hacker Lab's team and community are also mentors in the program.
To see the full list of topics and teachers, visit here. To sign-up for mentorship sessions on topics ranging from lean startup methodology and product design to startup bootstrapping, digital products, sewing and financial planning, visit here.
Hacker Lab: So, why mentorship? What's the value of these sessions?
Leslie: The thing with entrepreneurs and small business owners is, there’s a lot to know; They have to wear a lot of hats. Lots of questions that come up.
The powerful thing about our program is, a talented consultant can help entrepreneurs focus on what’s most important and what’s most impactful. We found, when they follow-through on advice from our mentors, it can really move the dial and help them advance to what they’re trying to accomplish.
That helps speed up the process of reaching goals. For something that might take a year, with a good mentor, it might only take a month and a half. You have all these priroities and it all seems important, but someone with a eye can help you focus on what’s most important and impactful.
HL: Have you benefitted from mentorship?
Leslie:I’m not a small business owner, so not from that angle. I have had mentors in my life though, who have always given me input on helping me keep focused on what’s important. Your vision, even if you have good vision - you can’t see behind you. Sometimes, a mentor can help you see what you’re missing.
We’ve had people come in and try to get a loan, they think they know what’s important; once they start talking about it, they realize how they’ve structured their business might have some major issues. A lot of times partnerships are difficult, or they’ve hired their relative; sometimes that can cause a lot of issues. So, sometimes you might not see from your own point of view; this way you can find your blind spot.
HL: What's the history of your program? Can you tell me about the SBDC?
Leslie:The SBDC has been around for 40 years. We have SBDCs in every state and county in the country. They stem from the Small Business Administration and there’s no cost to the client, since it’s paid for by your tax dollars. We offer it through the MetroChamber and we partner with other organizations like Hacker Lab who are comfortable with the Hacker Lab community and wouldn’t otherwise find us at the chamber.
It’s one of our goals to make the SBDC accessible; it always has been and there’s a lot of underserved folks who come through the chamber, but there’s surely more who haven’t.
We're also partnered with HaneyBiz, the Norhtern California World Trade Center, the cities of Sacramento and Elk Grove, SMUD and StartupSac.
HL: Are you able to meet more than once?
Leslie: Typically, we like to have them meet for at least five hours altogether. We see more progress made if there’s a concerted effort over a period of time. Typical appointments last an hour or an hour and a half.
HL: What stage can people be at?
Leslie: We’re trying to reach down lower than we normally do for where people are at. Historically, we like to work with clients with a well-formed concept; they know what they want their business to be. Sometimes, people are in the exploratory mode and can be in that mode for years. We try to find clients that have a good concept and really eager to put it into practice over the next 3-6 months.
We get our funding from the SBA and they expect us to generate results. We want to work with clients that are interested in achieving results. We’ll help people in the lean startup methodology and startup model canvas too, but we want people who have a clear idea of where they’re going.
HL: What about confidentiality?
Leslie:All of our consultants sign a confidentiality statement and take it very seriously. When people sign up for services, there’s a disclaimer about confidentiality.
HL: What can people do to prepare?
Leslie:Typically, early on there’s homework on market research. we also give homework on researching the costs involved with the business. Is this going to be viable on the market based on how much you can earn, how much it costs and what the competitive landscape is for that product?
You need to know how much money you need to get started. We do try to get people to come to us fairly early on without all the answers figured out; our mentors will give people homework and say go research this topic and let’s meet again in 2 or 3 weeks.
That’s our process: We establish the scope of work with a client — what are you trying to accomplish over the next three months? If they achieve that, they’ll move on to another SOW or work on achieving capital. They can talk to our commerce specialist or others on our team of about 20 consultants.
Interested in joining the Hacker Lab-SBDC mentorship program? Anyone can for free! There's no need to be a Hacker Lab member, either. Sign-up today.