Mason SBDC Lends a Hand to Small Businesses

Posted: April 5, 2010 at 1:02 am, Last Updated: February 15, 2012 at 12:48 pm

By Jennifer Edgerly

Mona Salisbury, associate director of the Mason SBDC, with client Paul Singh. Singh received assistance with raising capital and investor introductions for his company. Photo by Nicolas Tan

Whether you are a budding entrepreneur or a seasoned business owner, Mason’s Small Business Development Center (SBDC) has the tools to help you grow and sustain your business.

Offering expert consultation and training to entrepreneurs throughout Northern Virginia since 1989, the Mason SBDC helps small business owners navigate the sometimes overwhelming array of resources available from the public sector.

“We provide one-on-one counseling free of charge to operational and pre-operational businesses in Arlington, Fairfax and Prince William Counties,” says Mona Salisbury, associate director of the Mason SBDC. “Through our network of volunteers and partnerships with area organizations, we are able to counsel businesses on a variety of topics, including marketing, finance and strategy.”

One of 29 SBDCs throughout the state, the Mason SBDC is part of the Mason Enterprise Center, which is housed within the School of Public Policy. Along with receiving financial support from the university, the Mason SBDC is also funded by the Virginia SBDC and the U.S. Small Business Administration.

With a relatively small staff, the Mason SBDC frequently turns to its volunteer network composed of professionals from local law firms, CPA firms, banks and other organizations. Graduate students in Mason’s School of Management have also started turning to the Mason SBDC as a place to test out and hone their consulting skills while receiving academic credit.

“We are very fortunate to have a dedicated group of experts who donate their time to assist small businesses,” says Salisbury. “By volunteering their time, these professionals are helping companies in the community that might not otherwise be able to afford the expert consultation.”

Many clients, like Mason alumna Tsedey Aragie, understand and appreciate just how much of an impact the Mason SBDC can have on a young company that doesn’t have an abundance of capital. Working with the Mason SBDC since 2009, Aragie founded Essential Elements Inc., which provides healthy eating options in specialized vending machines. Her innovative concept is set to be tested in the Johnson Center on Mason’s Fairfax Campus.

“I met with each counselor more than once and would have paid a considerable amount of money for the advice and feedback I received,” says Aragie, BA Communication ’08. “The counselors are there to give you the real perspective you need from a professional point of view, and you’re also getting a better sense of what to expect with regard to expenses.”

The Mason SBDC saw the number of businesses it assists in Northern Virginia grow in 2009. Tasked with creating jobs and revenue in the region it serves, the Mason SBDC saw 315 different clients in 2009 and logged more than 1,000 hours of client contact. In fact, the Mason SBDC saw its services pay off with a whopping $4 million in capital formation last year. The Mason SBDC also helped create 240 jobs and retain 312 jobs in 2009.

One of those clients, Philtro, was the brainchild of Mason alumnus Paul Singh, BS Computer Engineering ‘06. Philtro is a real-time relevancy engine for major social platforms such as Facebook and Twitter that scrapes events and postings each day to determine what topics individual users might be most interested in. Philtro was recently acquired by a San Antonio, Texas-based start-up.

“I started Philtro in January 2009 and came into the Mason SBDC that March for assistance with raising capital and investor introductions,” says Singh. “The advice I received was instrumental in helping me focus on the right things at the right time.”

Following an initial meeting with an SBDC staff member to determine three top areas of concern, clients typically meet with volunteers once per quarter in areas more specific to their goals. All meetings between clients and SBDC staff and volunteers are held at the Fairfax location on University Drive near downtown Fairfax. For more information on Mason SBDC or to request a counseling session, visit the web site.

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