One committed Rhode Islander has been working for the past two years to help small businesses combat difficult economic times. The Rhode Island Small Business Recovery Program, an organization founded in 2011 to provide mentorship and advice to small businesses rebounding from the recent recession, is continuing its support this month by offering such businesses 15 free educational seminars in Warwick. As a Rhode Island native, founder David Nash said he wants to help the state by ensuring entrepreneurs have the tools they need to keep up in a competitive market.
Funded by a few private sector companies, the program reached 2,400 budding entrepreneurs last year by organizing seminars held by local business owners. This month’s seminars have attracted a total of 347 attendees.
The seminars include “Pricing for Profits,” a class designed to teach entrepreneurs how to maximize profits by determining the most appropriate prices for their services. The program will also host an event entitled “Speed Mentoring,” where eight participants have a chance to spend eight minutes with eight business consultants.
Stephanie Osborn, a founder of Tech Smart Friend, a company that advises clients on how to use social media, has been a consultant in previous speed mentoring events. Her expertise gives the participants an opportunity to ask about uses of social media, as well as general advice on starting a small business, she said.
Osborn attended the free seminars before she became a teacher, and she attended a seminar that Nash led before he began the recovery program, she said. Her relationship with Nash and the free seminars have influenced her to help out now, she added.
Nash retired from the Central Rhode Island Chamber of Commerce in 2001 and said he uses the connections and expertise he developed during his tenure there to build effective seminars. This month’s seminars are being held in conjunction with the Warwick Chamber of Commerce. Nash has worked with the Washington County Chamber of Commerce as well as the East Greenwich Chamber of Commerce to organize seminars.
Now that the program has been around for a few years, cities and towns throughout Rhode Island have started to request seminars in their towns, Nash said. The recovery program usually meets all the requests they receive, he said. Nash said he usually requires a town’s chamber of commerce to mail information about the seminars to every local commercial entity.
Nash said seminar leaders volunteering their time to his organization show their commitment to furthering entrepreneurship in the state. “We all have a role, and we’re playing our role in helping new and existing entrepreneurs grow and thrive,” he said.
Bob Salvas, who runs a small business that advises companies on how to spend their advertising dollars wisely, has run two seminars over the past two years for the program. “Rhode Island has had a reputation of being a tough place to do business – whether from its tax structure or all the regulations,” Salvas said. “We want Rhode Islanders to stay in the state. We want to help them be more successful.”
“I volunteer because I want to see small businesses succeed. It’s a tough economy here in Rhode Island. It’s very difficult for small businesses to thrive,” Osborn said.
Nash said he is confident the seminars are having a positive effect on the Rhode Island economy. “Rhode Island created 6,000 new businesses last year, according to the secretary of state. We contributed to that,” he added.
The program also sponsors a Mastermind group – a collection of individuals working on startups who gather every month to ask for help and give each other advice. The program attracts those who are “just starting out or had been in business but hadn’t gotten off the ground,” said Osborn, who also facilitates the project. Though the group has only met once, Osborn said she was excited to see a diverse range of age and experience in the people attending the session.
Dwight McDonald, a former small business owner, said he hopes to use the advice of people in the group to jump-start his second shot at entrepreneurship. “There is such diversity of people, we can’t help but learn from each other,” he said. “I want them to tell me what I can do better, tell me if I’m on track or tell me if my idea won’t work.”