Greenville and the greater Montcalm County area have a rich history with entrepreneurship.
Local luminaries such as Fred Meijer, Stanley Ash, Ray Tower, the Cook family and the Gibson family all started as entrepreneurs and grew their businesses into multi-million dollar or multi-billion dollar a year enterprises.
One of Gov. Rick Snyder’s key reforms since taking office a year ago is a radically new economic development strategy.
He is organizing the state’s resources for an “economic gardening” approach to developing and growing the economy. This involves supporting existing small businesses and helping them grow while encouraging entrepreneurs to launch more businesses.
The Daily News will focus on entrepreneurship this week with a five-part series on what is involved with starting a new businesses.
We talked to small business owners about their experiences getting their operations off the ground and experts about their advice for how to navigate the complicated process. We also heard about some of the myriad of assistance available to entrepreneurs.
To begin, we talked to Rob Spohr, the vice president for academic affairs at Montcalm Community College.
He is a former small business owner and branch manager for the local SCORE office. SCORE is a nationwide nonprofit that works with the U.S. Small Business Administration to support small businesses and entrepreneurs.
Spohr gave us the basics about entrepreneurship and owning a small business.
Q: What is an entrepreneur?
A: In the most basic sense an entrepreneur is a risk taker. Many people have good ideas, but it takes an entrepreneur to actually put his or her money on the line and start a business.
Q: Who is considered an entrepreneur?
A: Anyone who starts a business or buys a business is an entrepreneur. This doesn’t mean that the business has to be the sole source of income, it could just supplement income as well.
Q: What characteristics and personality traits do typical entrepreneurs have?
A: The typical entrepreneur is very internally motivated and must have a thick skin. People are going to tell them that they are going to fail, and sometimes they will fail. The true entrepreneur learns from her or his mistakes and tries it again. Some entrepreneurs fail four or five times before they find their niche.
Q: Who can be an entrepreneur?
A: Anyone can try, but to be successful you have to be motivated. There is a radio personality (can’t remember his name) who says that when starting a business you have to remember three things: 1. It is going to take you twice as long as you think, 2. It is going to cost twice as much as you think, and 3. No, you aren’t the exception. He is exactly correct, so the entrepreneur must be motivated and only take “no” for an answer temporarily.
Q: What is the climate like today for entrepreneurs?
A: My opinion is that it is great. Low interest rates, the economy is starting to grow and many people are trying to shop local whenever possible. I don’t think there has ever been a time when the small business has been focused on this much.
Q: What are the very basics an entrepreneur needs?
A: A great idea, a business plan and money. The idea is what you are going to do different than every other business. The business plan is your roadmap that allows you to understand your own business, and explain it to others (like a bank). Lastly, you need money. No bank is going to loan you money without at least 20 to 30 percent down.
Q: What resources are available to help entrepreneurs?
A: Michigan Works is a great resource for information and staffing help. Greenville has a local SCORE branch that offers free business counseling. There is also free small business counseling available from the Michigan Small Business Technology Development Center.
Q: What role do entrepreneurs play in the local economy?
A: They play a huge role. They provide employment for many people and, best of all, the money spent with a local entrepreneur stays in the local economy.
Q: Why are the state and local governments pushing entrepreneurship so hard?
A: When a big business comes in it brings many jobs to an area, but when a big business leaves the area loses many jobs. We know that well. Two other big plusses for small businesses are that you don’t have to give them big tax breaks to get them to locate in the area and having many small businesses is less risky than a few big businesses.
Q: What are the benefits and hardships from owning a business?
A: Having been a small business owner, I know these well. You work long hours, sometimes in excess of 100 hours per week. Also, there is nothing like the feeling of working 200 hours in two weeks and being rewarded by having to sign the back of your paycheck and deposit it back to the business so that you can pay the bills.