In 2020 alone, the Solano SBDC had 936 active business clients who received free one-on-one advising from the SBDC’s team of business experts, a nearly 90 percent increase from 2019. Business owners can receive advising on a wide range of topics but the most common in 2020 were related to loans and grants, marketing, and pivoting business models in response to the COVID pandemic.
“When the pandemic first began in March and April, we went from being a well-kept secret to a valuable resource for a lot of small businesses almost overnight,” said Solano SBDC Director Tim Murrill. “We fielded hundreds of phone calls. Between March and May, we helped over 600 businesses with their SBA loans.”
Altogether, in 2020, Solano SBDC clients reported $9.6 million in loans or equity that the SBDC helped them to receive. Other Solano SBDC milestones for 2020 included 33 new business starts and $16 million in reported increased sales. In addition, the Solano SBDC offered close to 100 online webinars with nearly 1,300 attendees.
“It really has been an unprecedented and challenging time for our business owners,” he added. “But despite the COVID challenges, those numbers are all record-breaking for us. It speaks directly to the strength and resiliency of our Solano small businesses.”
For Murrill, those numbers also highlight the importance of ongoing collaboration with local, state and federal partners.
At the federal level, the Small Business Administration provided additional funding in 2020 through the CARES Act that allowed the Solano SBDC to hire additional advisors, offer more webinars and hire a marketing specialist to reach area businesses about the resources available with the SBDC.
Locally, Murrill is in regular contact with the chambers of commerce, the economic development leaders in Solano County’s cities, local business organizations, and the Solano Economic Development Corporation. Many of those same individuals are part of a SBDC-focused advisory council formed in 2019 that meets regularly.
“We seek their advice on what our small businesses need most,” he said. “We want to connect with the community. We don’t want to be making any decisions in a vacuum.”
Proving that community connection, the Solano SBDC received financial contributions in 2020 from the cities of Vallejo, Fairfield, Vacaville, and Benicia.
“Some have been contributing for multiple years but 2020 was the first year we had all four,” Murrill said. “It really demonstrates their belief in the value of the SBDC and how we can help small businesses in their cities. At the same time, it provides us with critical funding to handle the escalating demand for our services.”
In addition to one-on-one advising and webinars, the Solano SBDC has several ongoing programs for business owners, including:
- Biz Rx: Developed by the Solano SBDC and launched in 2020, Biz Rx features two key components, both free to participants – a webinar series on marketing and revenue improvement opportunities as well as a confidential one-on-one assessment of your business with a SBDC advisor.
- Entrepreneurs Roundtable – Vallejo: This monthly program is funded by the city of Vallejo to help their business owners navigate the impacts of COVID-19. Participants are not required to be from the city of Vallejo.
- NxLevel: The NxLevel Entrepreneurial Training Program is an 11-week comprehensive, practical business education and enhancement program for serious entrepreneurs. As part of the program, all participants hear from experts from multiple business disciplines and develop and present a business plan. NxLevel is offered in the fall and spring with the next class beginning in March.