Clinics Help Entrepreneurs Aim High
Small Business Development Center’s free clinics set to aid startups
Starting a new business can be a confusing, complicated, and even costly process. Imagine if professional advice was available on topics like starting up, financing, marketing, and expanding that business. Now, imagine that advice is free. Too good to be true, right?
Surprisingly, it is true: The Small Business Development Center at UW-Eau Claire provides a wide range of support services for entrepreneurs of all stages – and all of it is free.
“All of the consulting is no cost, one-on-one consulting,” said Luke Kempen, who directs the center.
Recently, the SBDC has undertaken an effort to expand its reach by planning a series of clinics – both in Eau Claire and across its multi-county region of western Wisconsin – aimed at bringing its services to even more entrepreneurs. Two of the clinics are planned for later this month.
Kempen said small business owners may feel more comfortable coming to a clinic than coming to an office. The clinic is meant to create a one-stop shop where clients can visit with several experts in quick succession.
“People feel less threatened in that environment,” Kempen said.
“All of the consulting is no cost, one-on-one consulting.” –Luke Kempen, UWEC Small Business Development Center director
The clinics are made possible because of a team of eight UW-Eau Claire student interns who serve as small business consultants, working alongside the SBDC’s existing staff to work with even more small businesses.
The UWEC interns are funded by a Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. Workforce Innovation Grant received by the university. The funding will pay for interns through 2025.
Over the next few years, the interns will help the Small Business Development Center conduct 20 small business clinics across the region, including 10 in Eau Claire County (which were made possible by American Rescue Plan funds from the county). The first of the new year will be in Eau Claire on Tuesday, Jan. 17, and will be at the SBDC office (221 W. Madison St., Suite 110A). A similar session will be held Wednesday, Jan. 25, in Menomonie at WESTconsin Credit Union (3333 Schneider Ave. SE). Both clinics will run 9am to 4:30pm and require attendees to sign up for slots online in advance.
The Small Business Clinics will offer one-on-one consulting with SBCD staff – including Kempen and his colleague, financial and marketing expert Harlie Juedes – and others, including an expert on QuickBooks and representatives of the Wisconsin Department of Revenue. Attendees can register online and set up 30-minute appointments to discuss questions about marketing, start-ups, financial, QuickBooks, or taxes.
Department of Revenue representatives will hold a presentation from 1-2pm, then will be available for half-hour appointments through 4:30pm.
Additional clinics will be planned later in the year, particularly in the summer. These clinics may include additional experts in area such as the law and order fulfillment.
Like all the assistance provided by the SBDC, the Small Business Clinics will be free.
Student intern Allison Kind, a UWEC sophomore majoring in human resources, has been involved in organizing the clinics. Kind said working with small businesses over the past year has been a rewarding and eye-opening experience.
“I think that working in human resources it’s really important to be able to work with all kinds of different people,” she said. “It’s good practice to be put on the spot.”
While the Small Business Development Center has been a fixture in Eau Claire for years, its own business has been booming recently for several reasons, Kempen said.
The Eau Claire office helped an estimated 500 clients in the just-completed year, roughly twice the number it served annually before 2020. Kempen explained that awareness of the SBDC and what it does grew during the early months of the pandemic because the agency served as the “boots on the ground” for Small Business Administration programs, such as PPP loans. Having student interns has allowed the office handle the increased number of clients, helping entrepreneurs get assistance and students get experience. Last year, interns served 358 businesses, up from 229 in 2021.
The business aided by the SBDC ranges from small retailers to app developers to garbage haulers. “Our client base runs all over the place,” he said. “Our clients run from needing a $10,000 loan to a $10 million loan.”
Learn more about the Small Business Development Center and its upcoming clinics by going to wisconsinsbdc.org/centers/eauclaire, finding it on Facebook, calling (715) 836-5902, emailing email@example.com, or making an appointment to visit its office at 221 W. Madison St., Suite 110A (in the West Riverside Building).