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KOSBE getting help through grants to assist area businesses

Sharon Caskey Hayes • Aug 11, 2007 at 12:00 AM

KOSBE Executive Director Aundrea Wilcox, right, and Vanessa Bennett, administrative marketing assistant, prepare for the opening of the new KOSBE Startup Self-Service Center. Erica Yoon photo.


KINGSPORT - It recently received a $20,000 federal grant to launch a new Web site and self-serve workstation center for businesses and entrepreneurs.

Now, the Kingsport Office of Small Business Development & Entrepreneurship (KOSBE) could be in line for a much larger grant to establish a women's resource center in the Model City.

KOSBE Executive Director Aundrea Wilcox said her organization is hoping to learn later this month if it will receive the Small Business Administration grant from the SBA's Office of Women Business Ownership in Washington, D.C.

If awarded, the grant would provide $150,000 a year for five years for KOSBE to establish and operate a women's resource center to specifically help women business owners and entrepreneurs.

The Kingsport center would be only the second of its kind in Tennessee.

"The only other women's resource center in Tennessee is in Chattanooga, and that's just too far away," Wilcox said.

"I think we have a good chance at it. And I know the business women here and the entrepreneurial women who haven't started their business yet would appreciate that service," she said.

KOSBE conducted an online survey of women business owners and would-be entrepreneurs to determine if a women's resource center would benefit the area. Some 126 women responded. Of those, nearly 57 percent said they did not have ownership in a business, but more than 60 percent of those said they would be interested in becoming a business owner.

Nearly 48 percent cited being independent and self sufficient when asked why they would want to go into business for themselves.

Nearly 48 percent also said they had limited business experience, while a whopping 66 percent said they did not have the personal know-how and ability to write and execute a business plan.

Also, more than 76 percent of the women surveyed said they did not have a personal coach or mentor for career-planning and personal goal-setting.

Wilcox said the survey clearly shows the need for a women's resource center. She said the Small Business Administration was pleased with the survey.

"I felt like it helped with our case," she said, adding she's hopeful about KOSBE's chances of receiving the grant.

If the grant is awarded, it would fund a full-time program manager and support staff covering the region, Wilcox said.

"The women's business center will fulfill the need for flexible counseling, training and educational options for many women business owners and entrepreneurial women in the region," Wilcox said.

KOSBE just received a $20,000 Rural Business Grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. That grant will be used for three purposes: to create an interactive Web Site, to establish self-service workstations, and to provide technical assistance for business owners and entrepreneurs.

The first phase of the new Web site will give rural small businesses or entrepreneurs access to information, such as determining what business would best suit them and how to write a business plan. Phase one of the Web site is expected to come online in late August.

The second phase of the Web site, expected to be completed by the end of the year, will allow users to learn through self-paced training sessions on various issues, such as marketing, law and contracts, and so forth.

Wilcox said the grant is designed to help rural business clients get access to information and training through the Internet.

"This will enable us to reach more rural small businesses," she said.

The Web site will also include links to other training opportunities via the Small Business Administration.

Wilcox said users will be able to participate on the interactive Web site for free, but registration will be required.

The USDA grant will also fund the KOSBE Startup Self-Service Center (SSSC), which will be located inside the Kingsport Chamber of Commerce, next to the KOSBE office. The resource center will feature two personal computer workstations complete with wireless Internet access and loaded with Microsoft Office Small Business 2007 software, QuickBooks, and other small business programs.

The workstations will also include printers, heavy duty shredders, desktop labeling, and other multi-media devices, tools, books and resources.

"The SSSC will be available for use by all KOSBE clients - they simply need to reserve a time to use it," Wilcox said.

And the USDA grant will provide technical assistance to help small business owners and entrepreneurs.

Wilcox said the new Web site, resource center and technical assistance will all be designed to help business owners become more self sufficient.

"My big point is the self sufficiency piece. There are many clients that are not in the do-it-yourself mode yet, and they have to be, to be successful," Wilcox said.

KOSBE is a program designed to help businesses and would-be entrepreneurs. It hosts various conferences and seminars to help local small businesses, and serves as a link between businesses and the Small Business Administration, which offers various loans and training opportunities.

Wilcox just marked her first anniversary since tapped to serve as executive director of KOSBE. She said she's enjoyed her job. "It's incredible because it feels like I've been here for years," she said. "We've got a lot done, but there's still a lot more that we want to do."

For more information about KOSBE and its services, call Wilcox at (423) 392-8801 or Vanessa Bennett at 392-8811.

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