Where do I go for assistance if I want to start a business in North Omaha?
For years, this has been an on-going and difficult question to answer. Entrepreneurs and small business owners now have a wide range of places to go for help in every phase of their business. Nebraska is consistently being ranked as a great place to launch a business and frequently identified for its emerging tech related entrepreneurs. The state is also home to high level venture capitalists, making the region even more of a magnet for launching businesses.
The entrepreneurial environment hasn’t always reached North Omaha or seemed available to minority groups. Revive! Omaha Magazine, in partnership with the Empowerment Network, set out in late 2014 to identify what resources where available to North Omaha and African-American entrepreneurs. A closer look revealed more opportunities than previously thought. While there are still significant gaps, specifically related to access to credit and capital, entrepreneurs who are willing to work the process will find what they need is closer than they may have realized.
For businesses in the idea phase and looking to get started, the Omaha Small Business Network is a great place to go. Julia Parker, executive director, can quickly help entrepreneurs assess where they are in the process and where they can go for the next step. OSBN offers technical assistance, classes and can make loans up to $50,000 if a business meets eligibility guidelines and has been turned down by a bank.
The Start Center, founded by Julian Young, is another specific launching pad for people with an idea. The Start Center features a series of 10-11 week sessions to assist businesses with fine-tuning their vision, developing a business plan, finding coaches from their industry and seeking financial investments. The Start Center has established very positive relationships with highly successful small business operators who offer solid advice to upstarts.
For businesses looking for a small investment to get things moving, Catholic Charities offers an 8-9 week program with 16 classes in its Christ Child North Center. Participants receive vitally important training and could qualify for a micro loan up to $5,000. Originally started in South Omaha 20 years ago, the program which shows a high level of success was expanded to North Omaha in 2011. It is another great starting place.
The Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce offers a number of programs and services aimed at entrepreneurs and small businesses. The Thrive Program which is focused on small to medium companies that have been operating for a minimum of three years. It offers training, coaching, mentoring and connections to financial resources for expansion. Recently, the Chamber launched REACH, which is more focused on connecting minority, small and emerging businesses to contract opportunities with public organizations. The Chamber also consistently offers networking and educational opportunities for small businesses.
Several years ago, the Mountain Plains Minority Supplier Diversity Council based in Denver, Colorado, established an office in Omaha. Led by Market President Belinda Hooks, the MPMSDC is a growing and powerful presence in the community. With a national reach and proven track record, the Council helps minority businesses connect with and develop contracts with private corporations. The Council has tremendous experience in this area, helping minority businesses to sign millions of dollars in business with local, regional and national corporations. They offer a wide range of services starting with a needs assessment to help entrepreneurs better understand and document what they have to offer. After the needs assessment, the Council is able to match the business with training, technical assistance, networking, bidding opportunities, bonding and other financial tools.
Access to credit and capital is typically one of the biggest barriers for businesses in North Omaha. In addition to the micro-loans at Catholic Charities and loans up to $50,000 at the Omaha Small Business Network, another option is the Nebraska Enterprise Fund. Terrence Coleman leads efforts for the NEF in the Omaha area and has the ability to lend up to $150,000 to businesses. NEF is making a concentrated effort to extend services and opportunities in North Omaha. It’s important for business owners to review all of the options available for financing and growing their business.
Entrepreneurs must determine if debt or equity financing makes the most sense for them. They also have a range of tools including borrowing from family or friends; traditional bank loan; SBA loan; loans from organizations listed here; angel investors; and a new option, crowd funding. Each require significant research to determine which is best for the business.
For the youth in North Omaha, J’s Braintrust works with students in the after school program at Monroe Middle School. Efforts are now underway to offer entrepreneurship training to other schools starting as early as elementary. Benson High School was recently approved as a Magnet for Business, Entrepreneurship, Health, Construction and Design. The school will offer unique business and entrepreneurial classes for students. Other OPS high schools also offer classes and clubs for those interested in business. The Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City has a very useful web-site and under the leadership of Dell Gines, has launched workshops and a new curriculum for students and business owners.
In addition to these organizations and resources, the Small Business Administration and Nebraska Small Business Development Center are also available to support entrepreneurs. Depending on the specific industries and needs, they offer an array of training sessions, products and helpful contacts. Over the past five years, the State of Nebraska has created a number of funding opportunities for business start-ups in specific fields.
Revive! Omaha Magazine hosts a monthly luncheon for African-American business owners. For more information, please go to www.reviveomaha.com.