GARY | Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson discovered during sessions of her 15 minutes with the mayor initiative that many residents had entrepreneurial aspirations.
“They had great ideas that manifested through the products that they brought … cookies, pies, all types of great things,” she said. “We understood that we did not have the capacity on our own to really help our residents bring those ideas to fruition. So we are happy to partner with the SBDC, Accion and the city’s economic development corporation to assist individuals.”
Business and community leaders marked the new collaboration during a recent open house at Gary City Hall as well as launched office hours to connect potential entrepreneurs to business and financial guidance.
Northwest Indiana Small Business Development Center business adviser Bill Gregory and an Accion representative will be on hand from 9 a.m. to noon the first Tuesday of the month beginning March 5 at the annex building, 839 Broadway. Initially, individuals may walk in and appointments may be accepted in the future.
Eric Reaves, assistant director of Gary’s Economic Development Corp., said the need for services in Gary became evident during meetings with residents who had initial ideas but not business plans.
“I would meet a lot of people who had great ideas but they didn’t know where to start,” he said. “They would pull out a drawing or little napkin. I would say, ‘That’s good, but to go to the bank, you have to have a little something more than that.’”
NW-ISBDC Regional Director Lorri Feldt said this is a vital role of the organization: to assist individuals at an early stage of business ownership.
“What we do at the SBDC is help business owners and start-up entrepreneurs take that next step. It’s like an idea on a napkin - we assist start-up entrepreneurs take that napkin and develop it into a real business plan and understanding of the market and hopefully help them become a successful business that lasts,” Feldt said.
Accion representatives will offer advice on the financial side. The organization has been making loans in Lake and Porter counties since 2008 in a range of amounts from $500 to $50,000.
“We’re really excited to dive in here in Gary and get involved and really work with more businesses and fund more businesses in Gary,” said Jonathan Brereton, Accion Chief Executive Officer. “Accion works with businesses that are unable to access traditional forms of financing. Our average loan is $8,000 to almost any kind of business. One of my favorites is a dog-walking business. There’s a lot of money in dog walking.”
Carmella Saraceno of Miller Beach Market Place, and Dion Thomas, of Right Lane Express, shared their experiences working with both organizations.
“The portals have been put in place for people like me and other small businesses to be able to be home at night and wonder, ‘Can I do this?’ and be able to go online … that is how I found the ISBDC,” Saraceno said. “I met Bill Gregory and he says, ‘Tell me all about your ideas.’ I was pinching myself because he was actually sitting and listening to me go on and on. If I had not received a microloan from Accion, I would not have merchandise on the shelf at all.
“When I took the paper off the windows, within the hour, I had 10 people in the store. That is really what I needed to see as a new entrepreneur in the retail business.”
Feldt said her team is looking forward to the partnership’s development and she will assess if additional office hours are needed in the future.
“We are excited about this opportunity for Gary residents and Gary businesses and Gary citizens. Through this help, we expect to offer more goods and services to our community and in so doing build the city of Gary again,” Freeman-Wilson said.
For more information, contact the NW-ISBDC at (219) 644-3513, Gary Economic Development Corp. at (219) 881-1367 or Accion at (312) 275-3000.