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Opportunity knocks for small business students
Photos and Story by James Hill
by Susan HerefordOn a wet November night, eight students in PCC’s Small Business Development program come together one last time with instructor and counselor Jackie Babicky to focus on their businesses. They’d met 10 months earlier, but tonight is cause for celebration. Each has moved forward with their business goals and each successfully completed the first year of PCC’s small business management program. They studied how to prepare a business plan, do taxes, keep records, marketing and market research, financial management and more.The students and their businesses could not be more different – from a self-described "foodie" attempting to get her condiment start-up company off the ground, to one of four partners running a $9 million excavating company with 30 employees. Each entered the class with unique challenges.Jackie Babicky provided the technical knowledge and den-mother-type guidance. But each says the advice and support from one another is equally as important."I was ready to give up before this class." Diane Axt owns RelaxStation, a hair salon, hair products and massage service shop at the Portland International Airport. When she approached Port of Portland executives this year to open a massage service on the concourse, the first meeting met with little success. She brought her SBDC teacher along the next time. Babicky’s support helped her present a more compelling argument for massage services. She now knows it is possible to inch forward in her business expansion. Check dates, please. Check scenario."The class has been wonderful," says Axt. "It wouldn’t have happened without this class."Sam Nixon, founder of new business Clear Waters spa and pool service, admits, "I’ve changed my mind-set to working on the business instead of in the business." That subtle shift in thinking, says Nixon, has given him a better perspective on how to move his business forward. A former teacher with a background in aquatics, Nixon quit his teaching job one and one-half years ago to move Clear Waters from a weekend operation to a full-fledged business."Last January (at the start of the PCC class), I had eight clients. This winter I will have 25 clients. I’ve quadruped in one year. Plus, I’ve pushed my seasonal accounts from 9 to 50, a seven-fold jump," he exclaims, jumping from his seat to a metro-area map on the wall and showing off new territory.Nixon says the growth is due to developing referrals, plus a relationship with a pool sales company who sold him five accounts. His growth and success meet with a round of clapping and congratulations from fellow students. When he shares plans to move more aggressively into Vancouver, Lisa Watts, Excel Excavation, interrupts."Wait a minute," says Watts. "I’d think twice about Washington," and shares her belief that state tax law is complicated and cumbersome for small businesses. She is the CFO of a company providing public works and commercial site excavation services. Watts joined the class to help get her arms around the budget planning process Excel Excavation, which does $9 million in annual revenues."I have learned from everyone in this class," says Watts, who announces that her work in the small business management program has helped her complete a full-year budget for 2005.Vijay Deodhar is a licensed architect who started his company, 3D Infusion, two and one-half years ago. He provides CAD documents and maps to engineering and architectural firms. Deodhar identifies four sectors he will pursue: health care, transportation, public agencies and high tech."These 10 months have been extraordinarily valuable," he says. Deodhar thought about getting an MBA. "I decided it was far too theoretical. I call this the real-life class. The opportunity-knocks class."