Entrepreneurs in Scott County are about to get a new source of help to get their fledgling businesses off the ground.
Open to Business, a program that provides free technical assistance and loans to start-ups, will be offered countywide through the Scott County Community Development Agency (CDA) and the First Stop Shop, the county’s business site selection clearinghouse.
City officials will get a chance to learn more about the program at meetings next week, and a separate meeting is in the works for area chamber and bank officials. A program adviser will be available to meet with entrepreneurs by appointment every Tuesday starting Jan. 28 at the Scott County Government Center.
Overseen by the nonprofit Metropolitan Consortium of Community Developers (MCCD), Open to Business has been available to young businesses in Hennepin County for several years and in Carver County since 2012.
Last year the program expanded to Dakota County, where it’s being offered by MCCD in partnership with county and city development agencies and several chambers of commerce.
For the first nine months of 2013, it provided advisory services to 124 Dakota County businesses that included restaurants, fitness studios, a pet-grooming business and a Web design firm. The program also provided or helped arrange $167,000 in loans for businesses during the nine-month period.
The program’s technical assistance services include business plan development, loan packaging, financial management, real estate analysis, marketing assistance, strategic planning and business regulation research. MCCD also helps clients to find financing that best meets their needs and provides some direct financing and small business loans in partnership with banks and nonprofit lenders.
In Scott County, the new program will be funded with $40,000 through the CDA, according to Stacy Crakes, business development manager for the First Stop Shop.
Economic development directors say Open to Business fills an important need for small businesses and start-ups.
Dan Rogness, Prior Lake’s community and economic development director, said he believes the new program could help the Technology Village, the city’s small business incubator.
“We’ve been searching for potential financing resources for our [Technology Village] tenants, and the MCCD adviser may be a good opportunity for that exploration discussion to take place,” Rogness said. He said he’s heard good things about Open to Business from other communities where it has been available, with city officials telling him they especially like the one-on-one guidance services it offers entrepreneurs.
Crakes said Scott County officials have known about the program for a while but held off on signing onto to it until it gained experience with another program, the Regional Economic Gardening Partnership, that helps more mature businesses.
Christine Mollenkopf-Pigsley will oversee Scott County’s Open to Business program. She has served as an entrepreneurship/small business instructor at Dakota County Technical College (DCTC) in Rosemount.
She joined the college in 2004 as associate dean of business and entrepreneurship, developing the Institute for Business, Innovation & Entrepreneurship at the Partners in Higher Education site in Apple Valley. She also has helped build certificate and degree programs at DCTC that include a small business certificate program for home-based entrepreneurs and returning veterans.