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     April 3, 2017      #29-92 a2z 0
 
Small Businesses Development Center faces closure

Starved Rock Startups and the Small Business Development Center envisioned creating a collaborative movement in Ottawa and surrounding areas among budding entrepreneurs.

That vision was short lived, however, as Starved Rock Startups prepares to shut down later this month.

SRS opened a collaborative workspace at 817 Columbus St. where entrepreneurs could collaborate on their individual projects and businesses.

“We had started about two years ago to put together a concept that would duplicate a movement and create a culture within the region,” said Beverly Malooley, director of the SBDC and SRS board of directors member. “The idea was to create and embrace the next generation of entrepreneurs, which is millennials.”

Unlike other incubators that give entrepreneurs an individual work space, this space was designed to give entrepreneurs a shared, collaborative work environment.

By offering a location for beginning entrepreneurs to gather and work collaboratively, SRS hoped to build a network among entrepreneurs to encourage growth and foster new ideas. Where one entrepreneur could be strong in one field, such as web design, another may have a photography background or they could use their collective resources to help each other get started.

Additionally those working in the building also would be able to communicate with SBDC consultants. If successful, the groups foresaw the the concept being expanded to other communities.

After allowing use of the space for around two years, the owner of the building has asked SRS to leave by Thursday, June 30.

“The whole concept was great and maybe it would have been different if we had time to nurture it and fill it up and be able to start paying some rent, because they gave it to us for free that year,” Malooley said.

The SRS team was not able to “skim the surface” of what was possible with the concept, according to Malooley. As SBDC was preparing to focus on getting SRS started, it was notified Illinois Valley Community College would no longer be hosting the Center on campus, which distracted efforts. The group was able to get a few people to use the location, but was unable to continue to pull individuals together and market the opportunity.

SBDC provides free and low-cost training services and seminars to entrepreneurs and small businesses. It is funded by a $140,000 Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity matching grant wherein the department funds $80,000 and the SBDC funds $60,000 through donations from local organizations and the college. The SDBC assisted in helping businesses get started, including those that grew to be large, such as Seattle Sutton’s Healthy Eating and Clover Technologies.

IVCC decided to not continue hosting SBDC last fall, however the Center was able to raise enough funds to remain through 2016.

“Like many other Illinois community colleges faced with declining state funding, we made a business decision to make 2016 a transition year for our SBDC,” said IVCC Director of Community Relations and Development Fran Brolley. “In these financially trying times, we are focusing on credit hour-generating programs. IVCC remains hopeful the SBDC team can find another grantee to support its program well into the future.”

The office space currently occupied by the SBDC will be used by the incoming Business Employment Skills Team.

“We have a verbal agreement with BEST to rent the space being vacated by SBDC,” Brolley said. “BEST will have six and potentially as many as nine employees working at IVCC. BEST’s mission of workforce development aligns perfectly with our goals.”

The small business assistance group hosted at IVCC is not the only SBDC facing closure in Illinois as a result of the lack of a state budget. The Center at Rock Valley College has shut down and the SBDCs at Joliet Junior College and Illinois State University are set to close by the end of the month.

Malooley continues to reach out to local, nonprofit organizations and chambers of commerce to host the Center as she feels it is a critical resource in the community and diversifies the business sector beyond manufacturing.

“Our economic impact to the community is more than twofold,” Malooley said. “You have to build your community and you do that with great businesses and jobs.”

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