Local Businesses Rebound from Hurricane Harvey with UH Small Business Development Center
THIS MARCH, THE UH SMALL BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT CENTER CELEBRATED SBDC DAY, A NATIONAL RECOGNITION OF AMERICA’S SMALL BUSINESSES AND THE IMPACT THAT SBDCS AROUND THE COUNTRY HAVE HAD ON THEIR SUCCESS.
One of the markers of “normalcy” following a natural disaster like Hurricane Harvey is the reopening of small businesses that serve neighborhoods and workplaces around Houston.
Last August and September, countless business owners returned to the places they’d poured their lives into, afraid of what they’d see. Post-Harvey, they surveyed mud and water damage and despaired of whether rebounding was possible.
A very different scene took place this March, when a boisterous, noisy gathering of more than 100 business owners filled the headquarters of the University of Houston Bauer College Small Business Development Center in honor of SBDC Day, a national celebration of America’s small businesses and the impact that SBDCs around the country have had on their success.
That disaster loan kept us in business. I walked in that day and laid it all out. It was like financial therapy.
Three Brothers Baker co-owner
SBDC, a center within Bauer College, played a pivotal role in reviving Houston’s vast ecosystem of small businesses in the wake of Harvey’s devastation. In good times and bad, it consistently plays a vital role in helping small businesses in Southeast Texas start, grow and succeed.
In the days and months following Harvey, SBDC hosted a U.S. Small Business Administration Business Recovery Center that helped business owners like Janice Jucker of Three Brothers Bakery of Houston access disaster loans. Her husband Robert Jucker is a fifth generation baker for the 69-year-old landmark business. Jucker, celebrating at SBDC Day, said that Three Brothers would not have survived without UH SBDC resources and guidance following Hurricane Harvey.
“That disaster loan kept us in business,” Jucker said. “I walked in that day and went in and shut the door and laid it all out. It was like financial therapy.”
SBDC business advisor Lynn Billington first met Jucker after her business flooded during 2008’s Hurricane Ike. In addition to introducing her to the SBA for disaster assistance back then, Billington has worked with Jucker over the years on marketing strategy, operational changes and business expansion. With an unbreakable spirit, Three Brothers has rebranded, expanded to three locations and continues to look for opportunities to grow.
SBA Lead Business Opportunity Specialist Miguel Ruiz was also among the guests at SBDC Day. He singled out this SBDC, among 1,000 in the United States, as “a crown jewel,” a place that excels at results-oriented one-on-one advising, innovative training and numerous other services for business owners in its 32-county coverage area.
Executive Director Steve Lawrence began leading SBDC during its most challenging days following Harvey. He considers the SBDC’s equal opportunity approach to encouraging business success key.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re just starting out and have limited resources, or if you’re already on the path to growth, our advising is free and available to all,” he said at the outset of SBDC Day.
SBDC’s professional business advisors help clients develop business plans and strategies, identify financing options, prepare loan packages and marketing plans, and conduct financial check-ups. They offer guidance on business specifics, such as winning government contracts, developing a social media presence or reaching younger demographic customers.
While there may not be such a thing as a typical small business owner in Houston, the story of the founding of Nightlight Pediatrics is not unusual. Dr. Anastasia Gentles, in attendance at SBDC Day, co-founded a business after recognizing an unfulfilled need — in this case, providing after-hours children’s medical care.
Nightlight Pediatrics quickly took off and has been named one of the fastest growing companies in the nation by Inc. Magazine. After the Humble location sustained devastating damage during Harvey, representatives from the company came to SBDC to apply for an SBA disaster loan. Gentles, now Chief Medical Officer for the company, said interactions with SBDC have also been essential in helping her develop a better understanding of business vernacular.
“They point you in the right direction and answer any questions you have. It’s definitely helped me better understand business protocol,” Gentles said.
Lejon Stewart, owner of Big “6” Bar-B-Que, was another attendee at SBDC Day. He praised SBDC and noted that it took the Harvey emergency for him to become aware of services such as their many workshops and events.
“You’re an entrepreneur, you’re working, you’re making your own rules,” Stewart said. “I have lived here almost 30 years and somehow didn’t know about SBDC. But I have found the courses so helpful that I’ve come back to some of them twice.”