The Illinois SBDC at Harper College Offers
One-on-One Advising for Local Business Owners
Q. Where can small business owners in Rolling Meadows and throughout the northwest suburbs go for trustworthy guidance that helps them effectively navigate the challenges of starting, operating, and growing a successful business?
A. The Illinois Small Business Development Center (SBDC) at Harper College, which offers a wide range of programs and services for those just starting a new enterprise or who are exploring avenues for continued growth.
The SBDC provides a variety of services – at no cost – to start-ups, small, medium, and home-based businesses in practically any field. Its six-member advisory team offers valuable, practical guidance that fits the specific needs of individual owners and operators, including:
- Hosting confidential one-on-one discussion and consulting sessions.
- Providing business plan review and guidance.
- Discussing options for process improvements and ways to streamline operations.
- Sharing management, marketing, financial, and operational advice.
- Brainstorming new business opportunities.
- Presenting educational seminars and workshops that support successful business operations.
*Editor’s note: The SBDC does not work with 501 (c) 3 nonprofit organizations and is not a source for loans and/or other financial assistance.
The program, one of 900 SBDCs across the country, is funded through a partnership with the Small Business Administration (SBA), the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO), and Harper College.
“The SBDC team has been a business lifeline for me. I have felt encouraged, empowered, and educated by some of the most professional, kind, skilled and talented advisors.”
–Juliette Molina, Owner
Beauty by Juliette
“Every member of our business advisory team has been – or is currently – a business owner,” explained Tom Cassell, Illinois SBDC Director. “We enjoy strong relationships with many businesses throughout the area. Part of that stems from the fact that we understand the ups and downs of running a company.
“Our goal is to help local business owners equip themselves with the information they need to make decisions that are best for their unique situations,” he added.
Leverage Professional Experience for Clients’ Benefit
Mr. Cassell’s own professional background includes a wealth of experience that he is able to draw from when working with SBDC clients. He spent 15 years as a copywriter with two major New York-based publishing houses before accepting the position of Product Manager with a California-based music equipment distributor.
“Music has always been my passion, so it was time to switch gears and see where that took me,” he recalled. “Even now, I still write songs and perform to satisfy that creative impulse.”
By the late 1990s – just as the Internet began was beginning to rapidly transform business and commerce – Mr. Cassell had launched a company that built customized electric guitars that were shipped directly to the customer.
He also invested in a guitar manufacturing venture that was on the cusp of fulfilling a large order for a major guitar company before it was cancelled in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Transitioning to Business Development & Consulting
Mr. Cassell’s next stop was Chicago, where he was recruited to serve as SBDC Director for one of the region’s largest business incubators. That opportunity eventually led him to the Illinois SBDC at Harper College, where he has worked for the past 10 years.
“Personally, what I enjoy most is sharing what I’ve learned – not only from my own experience, but also from the many clients I’ve worked with over the years,” he said. “There aren’t many jobs out there where you really have an impact. I feel very fortunate to be able to do this.”
Pandemic Confirms SBDC’s Vital Role
The Illinois SBDC at Harper College provides advisory services to approximately 350 area businesses per year, on average. That number skyrocketed in 2020 and 2021, as the Covid-19 pandemic put the world on lockdown and created intense economic anxiety.
Mr. Cassell and his team spent hours each day talking with local business owners – many of whom would call to ask about information on paycheck protection program (PPP) loans and other financial assistance being offered at the federal, state, and local levels. Others would call simply because they were overwhelmed and felt they had nowhere else to turn.
“That was a very challenging time,” Mr. Cassell recalled. “Harper’s SBDC was able to provide guidance to countless people who were facing incredible challenges.
“On many days, it felt like we weren’t able to do enough. The feedback we received from the clients we worked with, however, was incredibly positive. They were thankful for our assistance. I think part of it was simply being there; they didn’t feel so alone,” he added.
“The Harper SBDC team helped immeasurably with many aspects of my business, including packaging and design; writing scripts for sales calls; drafting a Non-Disclosure Agreement to protect my product; and converting all my product and process knowledge into quantifiable spreadsheets.”
–Andrew Ziccardi, Founder & CEO
Ergonomic Bottle Caps, LLC
Growing Demand for Services
Over the past 12 months or so, the Illinois SBDC at Harper College has experienced a surge in demand for their services– specifically from individuals who are interested in launching new businesses.
Mr. Cassell can’t be completely sure of the reasons for the increased client traffic and overall interest in SBDC offerings, but he has a theory.
“After the past two years, after everything that has happened during the pandemic, I think that more people are eager to build something they can call their own.”
If and when they do, they’ll find plenty of support – and a team of trusted advisors – at the Illinois SBDC at Harper College.
Apply Online; Schedule an Appointment
Visit https://www.harpercollege.edu/business/sbdc/index.php to apply and schedule an appointment with an SBDC business advisor. The website also allows users to explore/register for upcoming programs.