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A Conversation With … Chrystal Irons

Director of MSU’s Small Business & Technology Development Center

Posted online

What is the Small Business & Technology Development Center?
It’s part of a statewide network, and actually a national network. In the state of Missouri, we partner with University of Missouri to create our own center at Missouri State University. We are funded by a grant by the Small Business Administration and through support from the university, we provide one-on-one consulting services to people who are in business or who want to start a business at no additional cost to them. Our office serves 16 counties in southwest Missouri.

What’s on the horizon for small businesses in the Ozarks?
The environment is very positive. The new tax law is going to offer some benefits to some small businesses. Of course, there’s challenges. As the unemployment rate continues to be at one of its lowest (points), we’re having to figure out: How do we reach outside of our immediate area to find some qualified job applicants? But also, how do we redefine how we search for job applicants? We’re not able to reach out to the masses because they’re not looking for jobs, so how can we reach out to those who are employed but are really great workers and might be willing to have a conversation about a different opportunity?

The National Federation of Independent Business reports that optimism among small businesses is at its highest in 30 years. What does that mean for entrepreneurs?
When they’re looking at that optimism, they’re looking at: Do business owners see that their sales are going to increase? What’s the environment for obtaining capital? Are they adding jobs? Are they expanding? For entrepreneurs right now, what it means is that there’s potentially a little less risk. There is a lot of success in the market. The environment is ripe for investment in small business, whether it be for startup purposes and definitely for expansion purposes, so there is capital out there for business owners to help them expand and grow their business.

What are some of the SBTDC’s current projects?
We work with (MSU’s) College of Business and we provide feasibility studies as a class project. If someone has a small-business idea, the students will spend a semester and develop a feasibility study for that potential idea. We’re also trying to work with larger businesses to do things like develop job descriptions and interview questions. We’re working with the marketing department to develop marketing strategies. We work with the English department to develop tech-writing projects.

What does it take to start a small business and what resources do entrepreneurs need to be successful?
Take the time on the front end to plan – understanding what their product or service is, what’s the value to the customers. Are there customers willing to pay for it and how much are they willing to pay? That’s just answering: Is there a market? They need money, but they won’t have that money if they don’t do the planning on the front end. There are a lot of resources out there to help them with that planning phase. The SBTDC, Score is another one, lenders are a great resource, The [eFactory] accelerator program. Entrepreneurs aren’t on their own to do all the planning and research.

Chrystal Irons can be reached at cirons@missouristate.edu.

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