Small Business Is Big Business at Mason Enterprise Center

Posted: November 19, 2007 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Jocelyn Rappaport

Jody Keenan
Jody Keenan

It was no surprise that when the members of the Association of Small Business Development Centers (ASBDC) were looking to elect their next chair, they chose Jody Keenan, the state director of the Virginia Small Business Development Centers (SBDC).

The ASBDC represents the collective interest of the national network of SBDCs. A partnership program, ASBDC works with private enterprise, government, higher education and local nonprofit economic development organizations. More than 500,000 businesses are assisted by ASBDC member programs each year.

Keenan has been involved with SBDCs on numerous levels, from local to national. With experience she acquired as an SBDC business counselor while in graduate school, Keenan joined Mason in 1996 as the director of the Fairfax SBDC.

SBDC is one of the many services provided by the Mason Enterprise Center (MEC), which is administered by the School of Public Policy and headed by Roger Stough, director, and Keith Segerson, managing director. The MEC focuses the energy, skills and intellectual capital of George Mason University on enterprise creation and expansion.

The Fairfax SBDC works with Mason faculty members, researchers and students who are launching companies around technologies developed at the university. Some of its recent successes include Mineral Sciences, SCIT Labs, Secure Command and Exprentis.

In 2003, when Mason became the lead host for the SBDC network in Virginia, Keenan took on the role as state director. Partners of the Virginia SBDC include the U.S. Small Business Administration, Mason and local sponsors.

“We help companies develop business plans, access capital to start or grow a business, develop marketing plans, and implement accounting systems. We also provide general business management advice,” says Keenan.

One of Keenan’s main challenges as state director has been to manage the U.S. Small Business Administration grant that funds, in part, the 29 local SBDC offices throughout Virginia. With the funds, the centers provide small business owners and aspiring entrepreneurs with no-cost or low-cost information, business counseling and training.

In addition, the Virginia SBDC Network recently contracted with the Virginia Department of Transportation to provide business assessments and counseling to certified Disadvantaged Business Enterprises. The contract funds a counselor in Springfield, Richmond, Hampton Roads and Radford to help these enterprises with marketing, financing and internal operations in preparation for bidding on state contracts.

According to the ASBDC, there are more than 22 million small businesses in America, with more than 800,000 started just in the past year; and there are 1,100 SBDCs throughout the United States.

One of the challenges facing Keenan is securing ongoing funding. According to Keenan, federal funding has almost been flat since 2001. Local centers are required to match their federal allocations, and the local hosts (that is, universities, community colleges and chambers of commerce) have been making up the difference in operating costs.

As ASBDC chair, Keenan looks forward to engaging the membership in the national legislative agenda to increase federal funding for the national SBDC network, which would help the association implement a national SBDC counselor certification program.

By supporting and strengthening small and medium business management, the centers contribute to the growth of local, state and national economies. Keenan explains the natural relationship between the SBDC and Mason’s School of Public Policy is that both do research and teach about entrepreneurship and economic development.

“The SBDC brings together business, education and government,” says Keenan. “The School of Public Policy and the SBDC encourage entrepreneurship and economic development.”

This article originally appeared in a slightly different format in SPP Currents.

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