BUSINESS & ECONOMY

Business Development Centers Provide Assistance, Free of Charge

By Michael Hill
Correspondent

Lobster Life Systems makes lobster tanks and marine salt for restaurants and stores.

It’s a 28 year-old business. Tom Olsen and a partner took it over in 2014.

“I thought I knew everything. It wasn’t until that first meeting that I realized I didn’t know everything,” said Olsen.

Olsen and co-owner Kristine LaGuardia heard about the New Jersey Small Business Development Center and sat down with a senior consultant who asked for Olsen’s business plan.

“Business plan? We started talking about some of our plans and he said, ‘no, no, no. I want to see what you have in writing,'” said Olsen.

Olsen says they wrote one. Added some fluff that the consultant detected and forced them to focus on more realistic numbers, their marketing plan and results. Olsen says the business has grown by 28 percent.

“Being forced to look at these numbers on a quarterly even a monthly basis that has really helped us keen in on our areas of opportunity,” he said.

The consultation didn’t cost Lobster Life a dime. New Jersey has a dozen state and federally funded Small Business Development Centers that are all in business to help small business.

Vincent Vicari became the regional director of the Bergen center last year.

“Whatever business challenge really effects Main Street, we’re here to help provide the service to guide them in a confidential manner to help them grow their businesses,” said Vicari.

The Small Business Development center says it’s absolutely necessary to vet an entrepreneurs’ ideas to look at the projections and realities of an industry does it also mean sometimes having to dash someone’s dreams?

“Yes, if the case that was the wrong dream,” said Vicari. “We have to have the data that supports the decision to go forward with this business venture or they would not be better off tomorrow than they are today and that’s not what we want.”

“I don’t want to think about it right now,” said Jimmy Ahdoot.

That’s what jeweler Ahdoot says the Bergen SBDC came to his rescue late one night. His lease was expiring and if he had failed to move out before midnight, the landlord legally could have kept every diamond. Vicari says he arranged for a lift of the store’s four-ton safe of jewels, keeping the business in business but moving some place else.

“This country and especially this state need people and the small business backups to help the mommas and poppas stores to thrive,” he said.

“The SBDCs nationally are that place to go to,” Vicari said.

Lobster Life says its growth proves it.

The SBDCs say they offer business owners a ton of resources and knowledge yet they remain largely untapped, underfunded and underused.