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From left: Cody Cox, Tara Horton, Chrystal Irons, Lance Coffman and Sandra Smart
McKenzie Robinson | SBJ
From left: Cody Cox, Tara Horton, Chrystal Irons, Lance Coffman and Sandra Smart

2021 Economic Impact Awards Business Advocate of the Year: Missouri Small Business Development Center

The Entrepreneur’s Ally

Posted online

When the COVID-19 pandemic reached the Ozarks, business operations for most companies changed overnight. Same goes for the advisory firms that support those businesses, like the Missouri Small Business Development Center.

“We transformed our whole client intake process … and purposely made ourselves very available to where you could schedule an appointment with anybody with a click of a button,” says Director Chrystal Irons. “They had to make immediate, overnight changes in their business models, and we were there to help them walk through that.”

Housed at Missouri State University and funded by the U.S. Small Business Administration, the center assisted more than 1,200 businesses in 2020, providing 5,200 hours of one-on-one consultation across its 16-county coverage area.

Irons says the center helped its clients secure over $15 million in disaster relief funding and capital, as well as the creation of 30 new businesses and 190 additional jobs for the region. That support came at no cost to clients.

“We took on two roles. The first one was: ‘Help us navigate disaster relief funding.’ It was new to everybody. We were combing through all the regulations,” she says of the center’s work over the past 17 months.

“The second thing was that personalized service. People were in tears on the phone with us about what were they going to do next week and how were they going to pay employees and themselves. We did listen to them and really met them where they were.”

Founded in 1982 and part of a nationwide network of such centers, the local SBDC has been a longtime resource for budding entrepreneurs and growing businesses. The staff works alongside business owners at every stage, from gauging feasibility to successfully navigating an exit from the company. Irons says advisers also help clients gain access to capital by connecting them with lenders, offering referrals and aiding with loan applications. In addition to its base at the Efactory, it also has satellite centers in Howell and Taney counties.

Irons says some of the center’s main focuses are helping businesses grow, targeting those with 10-100 employees and in manufacturing; expanding technology in the region; developing women- and minority-owned businesses; reaching young people to develop a culture of entrepreneurship; and advocating for rural businesses.

Irons says the number of meetings with budding entrepreneurs is higher than average right now, and she attributes this to the center making appointments more accessible, the high unemployment rate in parts of 2020 and the growth of certain industries, like technology and construction.

Pandemic or not, Irons says the SBDC will continue to innovate to best serve its small-business clients, which she calls the “fabric of our local community.”

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