The success or failure of a small business often depends on the individual at the helm of the venture. However, a natural problem arises when these entrepreneurs are exposed to new business responsibilities outside of their experience portfolio. Strategic planning, managing finances, utilizing digital marketing channels and establishing proper sales processes are only a few of the obstacles that business owners face. All these disparate areas challenge the entrepreneur’s individual ability to succeed. These difficulties are only amplified by the public health crisis that we are currently facing.
Fortunately, operating your own business does not have to mean going it alone. There are regional organizations that collaborate to provide you and your business with the support services you need. This critical network of Business First Responders was recently highlighted in the Business Ledger’s article, “Working Together to Keep Business as Usual”.
It didn’t take COVID-19 to usher in the level of collaboration that we are experiencing during this downturn- the seeds for these channels were planted well before that. Innovation DuPage was created to act as the connective tissue of our region’s entrepreneurial support services. In its first year in business, ID focused on connecting founders to regional resources. This gives entrepreneurs the ability to scale at a faster pace without the steep price tag.
Gray Matters Games (GMG), a board game company and inaugural ID member, is the perfect example of what these partnerships are able to accomplish. They worked with students in a marketing and strategy class at Elmhurst College on a launch plan for their game “Office Decathlon.” Through this relationship, GMG also hired a marketing intern from the College. At the College of DuPage (COD), GMG collaborated with a team of students from the graphic design program and brought their latest game “Alphabet Race” from concept to testing stage. Once again, this connection led the company to a new hire – a brilliant design contractor that’s been helping them on a number of projects. But that’s not all. Through ID, GMG linked up with the Executive MBA program at Northern Illinois University to create an international marketing plan. This will give GMG an opportunity to diversify their offerings and expand their retail footprint.
When the world seemed to turn upside down, the interlocked relationships have helped to keep companies afloat. Regional economic development organizations came together to offer business owners a ‘breath of fresh air’ while the concept of a ‘new normal’ became inescapable.
Operating in a Time of Dramatic Change
“Collaboration between regional workforce boards like workNet DuPage, economic development agencies like Choose DuPage and College of DuPage’s Business Development Center (BDC) is critical. These entities are working with regional chambers of commerce, the business incubator Innovation DuPage (ID) and a number of colleges and universities to continue the necessary support of the small businesses that are impacted most during these uncertain times.”
As the COVID-19 crisis enveloped the country, the COD Business Development Center was the first on the front lines to assist businesses in our community. The rush for financial relief was focused on “[helping] companies apply for payroll protection, business loans and develop contingency plans”. Since mid-March, they have assisted hundreds of clients and have run 29 webinars. They are a lifeline of support at a time when assistance is needed more than ever before.
Choose DuPage similarly took up the call to action. When the federal government’s dollars allocated toward the Payment Protection Program (PPP) and the Emergency Disaster Injury Loans (EDIL) dried up, small business owners had few places to turn to. Choose DuPage and DuPage County’s response was to launch the Small Business Relief Program. County businesses were given an opportunity to apply for grants that assisted with employee retention payroll, utilities and rent. Meant for businesses with less than 15 employees, the $1.5 million dollars allocated toward the program gave small business owners yet another opportunity to stay afloat.
The County’s workforce development agency, workNet DuPage, was at the forefront as well. They provided employers with training assistance to retrain their internal talent pool, assisted with recruitment support efforts and offered a number of resources to assist business owners. They performed all of these functions all whilst helping job seekers connect with funding for job training and aiding laid-off workers in applying for unemployment insurance.
The list of support services goes on and on. What is most important is not the individual work that these organizations have carried out, it is the collective effort behind them. Though none of these organizations can fully mitigate the impact of this global pandemic, together they are able to minimize the long-term repercussions.
Inclusion of Diverse Communities
Our responsibility to support small business owners from minority communities is critical. They are suffering from this public health and economic crisis disproportionately. Resources and programs to help bolster their businesses will help to increase employment and financial opportunities for POC communities.
The COD Continuing Education department, BDC and ID are collaborating on English Learning Acquisition Integrated Career and Academic Preparation System (ELA ICAPS) business classes. Program participants are first-generation immigrants who either have established businesses or are aspiring entrepreneurs. The course covers vital business topics including leadership, strategic planning, finance and sales. Simultaneously, participants are receiving incubation services from Innovation DuPage that includes 24/7 access to our coworking space (under ‘normal’ circumstances), mentorship and webinars/workshops. Though this program was originally slated to take place in-person, the necessary adjustments were made to continue delivery of high-quality instruction online.
The Construction Industry Owner-to-CEO program is a collaborative effort put forth by the Hispanic American Construction Industry Association (HACIA) and ID. This offering is geared towards assisting POC, female and veteran-owned construction businesses. Subject areas include: contract bid process, project management, insurance & bonding and finance. Like so many others during this pandemic, the construction industry has been hit hard. Paving a path toward recovery will not be easy for any of these businesses. It will require an increased understanding of their industry, connections to new opportunities and support from peers and mentors. These are the very tenets of the Owner-to-CEO program.
An Eye Toward the Future
Though social distancing keeps us physically further apart, regional economic development agencies and partners are coming closer together than ever before. Together, we are dedicated to serving the entrepreneurial community. We will continue our work to bring you the high-quality programs you need. No matter what new challenges arise, we will be here to help guide you through.
The small business community is made up of our neighbors, friends and family members. When the community comes together with a resolve to adapt and innovate, the Power of We is boundless.
Connect with Us
Innovation DuPage can help transform your idea into a viable commercial venture. Connect with us on Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook or call 630-942-3340 to explore your next steps. If you are interested in connecting with entrepreneurs like you, check out our public events.