BY ALEX HUMMEL
aunching a business is not easy. Nor is making it last.
The University of Wisconsin Oshkosh has a trio of business-support agencies woven into its fabric, each offering distinct tools and campus-based knowledge and expertise to help start up and sustain businesses in Oshkosh, the region and the state.
The UW Oshkosh Business Success Center (BSC), Wisconsin Family Business Forum (WFBF) and Small Business Development Center (SBDC) have each tallied an impressive and growing list of wins for enterprises and entrepreneurial endeavors large and small. In some cases, spin-off, business-development initiatives are even being born within the three agencies.
In 2012, the SBDC, within the College of Business, alone served 200 clients, providing one-on-one business counseling and helping start eight new businesses while assisting clients with securing more than $3.3 million in capital formation for business development.
The SBDC along with multiple Chambers around the Fox Valley, is also in the process of implementing a monthly “coffee” session to provide “a platform for small business owners to network, voice concerns, celebrate successes, and bring in speakers/panelist that are relevant and timely,” SBDC Director Colleen Merrill said. “We are planning to survey thousands of small business owners throughout the Fox Valley to discover what keeps them up at night and the issues that are creating barriers to growth. Once armed with that information, we will be able to develop a monthly program around one of the relevant topics.”
“Collaboration has always been the major focus of the UW Oshkosh SBDC center,” Merrill said. “We understand that a rising tide lifts all ships, and we are using our vast network of resources to help launch and grow small business. Our ability to customize services based on the company’s needs lets us work along the entire continuum of the business cycle. We are no-cost to our clients and communicate that our only goal is to help them succeed, either by our direct consulting or by bringing in an outside team with the expertise they need.”
Helping connect external business and enterprise with University faculty and staff knowledge, talent and resources, the BSC’s staff and student employees assisted 94 companies and organizations in the region in 2011-12.
The BSC team provided service-learning, community-based research and volunteer partnerships; cultural or arts-related partnerships and direct business development assistance. That expertise translated into everything from implementing surveys that gauged regional manufacturers’ hiring expectations to helping local employee unions develop stronger strategic plans to schooling small manufacturers on the value of social media (Facebook and Twitter, for example) to keep contact with customers and partners.
The BSC is also the agency that launched the spin-off AeroInnovate – an organization which highlights new technologies, entrepreneurs, emerging companies and investment trends. AeroInnovate was involved in its 5th Experimental Aircraft Association AirVenture this summer and also recently helped form the Wisconsin Aerospace Consortium – a first-ever gathering and collaborative braintrust of aviation and aerospace entrepreneurs and companies.
“I believe the core of our success is our great faculty and students,” said UW Oshkosh Business Success Center Director Doug Jarmusz. “We have a vast amount of resources and knowing the university well, we are able to quickly put together a team that can find a solution to our customer’s concerns. I can describe this better over the phone or directly to you when we talk.
The WFBF’s mission of “fostering healthy family businesses through learning, sharing, and creating effective solutions regarding the critical issues and problems confronting family businesses” is also increasingly appealing to more and more members in the region and state. The organization’s membership was up to 35 businesses last month.
In the new fiscal year, WFBF will be offering eight programs, including a Business Expo for its family business members, business sponsors and the public. The organization has had approximately 50 to 150 people attend its programs, including the “Family Business Education Series.”
Its “Peer Group Meetings” are designed to give WFBF members the opportunity to learn from one another “and to discuss strategies and concerns… in a problem solving and leadership development mode.” WFBF offers members seven different peer group meetings, held monthly and quarterly. More than 100 people attend peer group meetings each year. ν
Alex Hummel is the Associate Director of News and Public Information with Integrated Marketing and Communications at UW Oshkosh