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Oklahoma development center provides full-service business assistance

TULSA, Okla. - Let's say Grandma left you a great fry bread recipe. Everyone raves about it. You begin to think that maybe you could be the next Orville Redenbacher or Mrs. Fields.

How do you get financing? Will the venture succeed or is there too much competition? You'd love to own your own business, but where do you start?

For Native Americans in the Oklahoma area, the answer is simple - the Oklahoma Native American Business Development Center.

The center cannot only help get a business off the ground, it can assist with writing a business plan, help find financial backing - through loans or investors or grants, put together a feasibility study about the proposed business and help at nearly every step of the way as you get the business off the ground.

If it continues to grow, they can put you in touch with qualified personnel they have trained through their employee-training program. And, to make things even easier, there is no charge for their Native American clients!

Executive Director Dennis Dowell said he estimated the center has helped more than 20,000 businesses get started over the 14 years the center has been in operation. It is funded by a grant from the Small Business Administration Minority Development Agency.

What would Michael Dodson, business development specialist for the center do if you walked into his Tulsa office with your fry bread idea?

"We would help you ascertain if there is a market for your fry bread in the area where you want to sell it. Location is very important," Dodson said. It is becoming less important as business gains the capability of marketing via the Internet.

"It would help determine if there is a market in the physical-geographic area you can deliver in," Dodson continued. "We can also help you determine if you have a quality product by putting you in touch with someone who can help you enhance your product if you need to. We would determine if you need to borrow money or obtain money in some way so you would have sufficient capitalization for your venture."

Dodson said that most of the center's clients are in the construction field, which are very capital intensive.

"We would help you find out if you needed more capital," Dodson said. "We would then help you prepare a first business plan. You really need that. It is like a map for your business. You need to have it written down so that it doesn't change, like it does if you try to follow your goals by memory."

Dodson said the business plan is very important, especially when business owners go out and try to raise capital for their ventures. Banks and even tribal grant programs want to see where the business is going.

The center also helps prepare paperwork for a grant or loan by making sure all the I's are dotted and that all the T's are crossed. Dodson said that often the amount of paperwork required from lending agencies can be intimidating for someone not experienced in business financial matters.

There may also be investors interested in getting an equity stake in the business when providing capital for aspiring entrepreneurs.

Dodson said that although some grants are available, most new businesses have to depend on loans or other programs to get started. He added that many tribes are putting money aside to help new businesses for their own tribal members and the center has information on those programs also.

All right, you've made your business plan, found out that your fry bread business is feasible and you've got your capital in place. Does that mean you are ready to become a successful business owner?

Not quite Dodson said. Marketing strategies must be thought out and the center helps to give budding entrepreneurs an edge getting off to a good start.

Help doesn't stop here. Dodson said the center continues to help clients build their businesses.

"There are people with existing business who may need capital injections," he said. "You've been preparing and selling your fry bread for a couple of years. There is an opportunity to buy out a competing fry bread manufacturing plant up the street. It will eliminate a competitor and gain that competitor's market, or it could allow you to gain more equipment. Maybe you just want to borrow money for any reason. We can help you there."

Dodson said that the center also helps businesses with procurement by finding outlets for their services and products through contracts with the government and other private corporations.

One of the most important things the center does is to let its clients know if a business appears to be one which will succeed, Dodson said. "If we don't provide that information, we have done a disservice to our clients. The statistics nationwide of failure rates of small business is rather high. Some businesses go out of business for 'good reasons,' Dodson said. The owner may have made a profit and is ready to move on or others go out of business because their owners went into business without knowing enough about the business.

"Authors believe that if you are contemplating going into a business you know little about, go work within that field for a couple of years to learn about it. You really need to know about the business you are going into," he emphasized.

If you are considering starting a business or currently own a small business, you can find more information about the services offered on the center Web site at www.indiansbusiness.org or call the office at (918) 592-1113.