Help on the way for small businesses

Published 9:39 am Saturday, February 28, 2015

Small business is a big deal in America.

According to statistics compiled by the U.S. Small Business Administration, small businesses — those with fewer than 100 employees — account for 99.7 percent of all employers in the nation. They employ half of all private-sector workers and nearly four in 10 workers in high-tech jobs. About 130 million U.S. workers are employed by small businesses, and they earn about 44 percent of the nation’s payroll.

Clearly the nation has good reason to do what it can to help small businesses be successful. But a third of small businesses fail within two years of launching, half close their doors within four years and nearly two-thirds do not survive six years.

The challenges facing owners of small business can be daunting.

That’s why the Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce is launching a mentorship program for small startups. The PROPEL Mentor-Protégé Program is modeled after a program in Knoxville, Tenn., that has helped create 90 new jobs and more than $50 million in revenue for that business community since 2009. Officials from the local chamber saw the program in action in Tennessee and believed it could yield similar benefits in Hampton Roads, so they determined to bring it here.

Jim Carroll, the chamber’s vice president for small business and the executive director of the Small Business Development Center, said programs in this area have been great about providing startup information to owners, but they’ve done little in the way of following up to teach entrepreneurs how to put that information to work for them.

The PROPEL program will provide the necessary information for startup, but it will also connect the new entrepreneurs with mentors who have experience and advice they can share during the crucial first couple of years in business. “We have some very, very successful and very, very community-oriented small business owners,” Carroll said.

There will be a separate track for retail businesses, which will include a separate set of mentors providing advice.

The two-year mentorship program costs $900 a year, which includes a membership in either the Chamber of Commerce or the Retail Alliance. The cost for businesses that already are members of one of those organizations drops to $600.

For more information or to sign up for the program, call Carroll at 664-2595.

If you’re an entrepreneur considering starting your own business, you deserve all the help you can get. There’s too much riding on your success to ignore such a good opportunity.