Summit Helps Small Businesses

  • May 4, 2005

OAKLAND: SMALL BUSINESSES are the backbone of the U.S. economy. But being an entrepreneur means more than just having big ideas. It requires overcoming and avoiding pitfalls.

Luckily, there are many resources to help small business owners. This week, the Cal State East Bay Small Business Development Center is hosting an economic summit to address the concerns and challenges that companies face.

Statistics from the U.S. Small Business Administration show just how vital small businesses are to the U.S. economy. Small businesses provide about 75 percent of the net new jobs added to the economy. Overall, they employ half of the country's private work force.

But such companies have been facing a litany of challenges lately, including higher health care costs and rising fuel prices. Only about half of new small businesses survive at least four years, according to the SBA.

A recent survey of 400 national small businesses in March by Harris Interactive showed general business operations remain a primary challenge for small-business owners. Eighty percent said reducing costs or cash management was one of their top challenges, while 44 percent cited retaining customers and finding new ones as a key challenge."General management skills is the biggest issue that we see business owners face," said Raj George, director of the small business center. "It's just understanding the nuts and bolts of HR. It's understanding how when your business grows, how to do your manage expanding staff? How do you manage the federal state and local regulations?"

The center's seminars this week include everything from finance and managing technology to marketing and time management. Most classes are less than $100. An all-week pass costs $250. Classes are held in downtown Oakland and will be held later this spring as well.

The summit's free opening session at the Oakland Museum of California on Monday included forums on a variety of topics.

One focused on helping minority companies and small businesses become suppliers for corporations and public agencies, which are actively recruiting such companies. Wells Fargo, East Bay Municipal Utility District, Genentech Inc., Pacific Gas and Electric Co. and Cisco Systems Inc. all had representatives on hand to talk about their "supplier diversity programs."

Bev Strand, manager of Cisco's supplier program, said the most important thing for businesses to do is exhibit their "core competency" when pitching Cisco.

"It's really important when a small business comes to me that they are specific about the niche business that they can provide and the benefit that it would be to me at Cisco," she said. "So, to come to me in general terms and just say, 'Well, I'm a consultant in IT,' is not specific enough for me to be able to advocate what they really do internally (to the people at Cisco)."

To help grab corporate contracts, many businesses are becoming certified to show they really are minority-owned or woman-owned businesses.

Several agencies offer such certification. Northern California Supplier Development Council offers the credential only to minority businesses. The organization charges $150 annually.

"It's a validation," said Michael Ruiz, the agency's director. "If you run into a corporation that does in fact have a supplier diversity program, with stated or unstated goals, this provides you a way to begin to do business with them."

For more information on Cal State East Bay's Small Business Development Center, visit www.eastbaysbdc.org or call (510) 208-0410.


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