Spotlight on Business: 3 unsung, behind the business scene heroes

  • Tom Leonard
  • Eric Bowman, Kohala Center business development coordinator, left, helps businesses create plans that can help them grow. (Courtesy photo)
  • Marty Kennedy, left and Dennis Boyd of the Small Business Development Center hold classes at the NELHA Hale Iako conference room. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

This column has spent some time profiling the who and what of small businesses in West Hawaii, so it might be time now to turn our attention to the how.

How do you get into business, get financing, scale up your product, expand? How do you get help? Rather than providing generic answers to those questions, it seems a better idea to direct you to the sources — those people who can help you navigate the terrain of business development and provide specific answers to the questions relative to your particular situation.

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The Big Island has a handful of organizations actively involved in delivering development services to people wanting to form businesses and to existing businesses needing assistance. Staff at these organizations are down in the trenches, so to speak, with their entrepreneurial clients. They’re not doing theoretical planning work, they’re putting pen to paper, finger to keyboard and are doing the actual work of helping individuals get into business and companies stay in business.

Last year these organizations from across the island came together in an informal Economic Development Hui to coordinate efforts and trade insights that could help each other.

Three of those Hui organizations particularly relevant to West Hawaii are the Kohala Center, Hawaii Technology Development Corporation (HTDC) and the West Hawaii Small Business Development Center (SBDC). Services offered at all three of these organizations are provided at no charge — except for small fees for training by the SBDC — and all three take similar but slightly divergent paths toward helping improve the economy of Hawaii Island on the individual level.

The Kohala Center, which can be contacted by phone at 887-6411 or via email at www.kohalacenter.org, has the broadest mission of the three, focusing on food and energy self-reliance efforts as well as ecosystem health. The center’s focus regarding business development is agricultural and energy enterprises, but it also works with other types of businesses as well. The Kohala Center provides microloans, consulting, training, cooperative development and assistance in business plan development and grant writing.

“While our client businesses range from the big to the small, our niche is helping people at the very early stages of their efforts, at the pre-revenue level,” said Eric Bowman, Kohala Center business development coordinator.

“A good example is somebody looking to get into farming who participates in our Beginning Farmer-Rancher Development Program. Several months into that, (he) decides he wants to raise money for his farm,” Bowman continued. “And so we work on business plans and financing. Then (he) wants to take things to the next level with cooperative marketing. We can assist a person like that in all phases of this process.”

At almost the other end of the business-niche spectrum is the Hawaii Technology Development Corporation, which can be contacted by phone at 936-0222 or via email at www.htdc.org. The organization is represented on the Big Island by Tom Leonard, its neighbor island representative. Leonard comes from an IT background with years of experience in forming and growing computer and software companies.

“Our focus is two-fold,” he said. “We provide mentoring to technology companies to support them through their growth and we help companies via several established programs. Those are the Manufacturing Assistance Program, which provides grants to reimburse manufacturing companies for equipment purchases, and the Small Business Innovation Research Grant Program, where we are out to encourage more participation by minority groups.”

The third organization is the West Hawaii Small Business Development Center, which can be reached at 333-5000 or via email at www.hisbdc.org, with a mission to “drive the economic development of Hawaii by helping businesses to form, grow and thrive.” That pretty much covers the waterfront of development for any type of small business in Hawaii.

The SBDC works one-on-one with entrepreneurs on starting businesses, helps businesses get the financing they need to start or expand, offers training on business topics and assists with marketing or human resources issues.

“What I enjoy most about my job,” said Marty Kennedy, SBDC business advisor, “is the opportunity to work with so many different kinds of businesses. The range of businesses we help is pretty amazing and it’s exciting to do what we can to help these creative people navigate what can be a confusing and daunting path towards turning dreams into reality.”

“While people may think of us as being only involved with startups, we work just as much with existing businesses,” Kennedy continued. “Our only criteria are that a client is involved, which usually means owning or wanting to own, with a business that can help them and the community economically.”

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From farming to high technology and all points in between, whichever of these organizations suits your particular needs as a wannabe entrepreneur or current business owner in West Hawaii, seek them out and use their expertise to help you get in business and stay there successfully. They all exist for one purpose — to serve you and your business. They have no other agenda and they have staff eager to help you help yourself.

Dennis Boyd is the director of the West Hawaii Small Business Development Center.

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