SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

September 29, 2010

Program helps companies take their next step

By Ethan Forman
Staff writer

SALEM — When state and local officials trumpet programs to help business owners, they usually target struggling startups or those withering on the vine of the Great Recession.

But a unique new program at the Enterprise Center at Salem State, called "Managing Growth for Greater Success," is aimed at providing a way for robust North Shore businesses to grow — and create more jobs along the way.

To get into the program, these companies had to be growing rapidly. And they had to be making money, with more than $1 million to $30 million in revenues to qualify. This crop of businesses seeking mentoring help are varied and include Windover Construction of Manchester, which is building a new dormitory on the campus of Endicott College; Finz Restaurant in Salem; and professional staffing company R&L Associates of Beverly, to name a few.

One of those businesses looking for growth support includes POS Supply Solutions of Danvers, which sells point-of-sale products, such as rolls of thermal paper, to other companies. The company has seen rapid growth in recent years, but its leader faces challenges as his company feels growing pains.

"The challenge is developing my own leadership skills," said Stephen Enfield, a Topsfield resident and the company's president and CEO.

These companies' leaders share common concerns, including stress about growth, taking on more staff, ramping up sales and marketing, and whether they have systems in place to handle the increased business.

The seminar, which costs business leaders $1,500 to attend, aims to link North Shore businesses with industry experts who can mentor them. Beth Goldstein and Barry Horwitz, business educators at Boston University and successful consultants, are seminar instructors.

It's not a one-day affair, either. There are five seminar sessions throughout the fall, with leaders attending additional mentoring sessions.

What is at stake is not just company profits but jobs. The 16 companies involved have the potential to add 71 full-time and 38 part-time jobs over the next few years, said Christine Sullivan, the executive director of the Enterprise Center.

Enfield, for one, provides retailers and others with point-of-sale solutions such as rolls of thermal paper used in ATMs and high-tech handheld devices that can scan a purchase and print out a receipt.

The company, with $3 million to $5 million in sales, is 10 years old, has 10 employees, and has been enjoying about a 20 percent growth rate in the past three years.

"We are looking to double ourselves in three years," Enfield said. Despite the success, Enfield decided to take the seminar to help him manage his business better.

"What brings me to the program?" Enfield asked. "To network with like-minded businesses. Certainly, access to the mentors. I was impressed with the bios of the mentors."

These mentors include Keith Boudreau, who has 30 years' experience in industry growing companies: He served as president of the technology and finance division of Textron Financial.

Then there's high-tech marketing executive Anita Brearton, managing director of Golden Seeds Angels, which invests in women-owned and -invested businesses. She is an entrepreneur in residence at Simmons College.

One participant is Dr. Elizabeth Bradt, who runs the All Creatures Veterinary Hospital in Salem and who credits Sunday hours with her clinic's success.

"I'm here to manage growth," Bradt said. "We are growing very, very quickly." Her business grew 9 percent last year as people decided they could skimp on other things, but not their pets, during the recession, she said.

The initiative's kickoff meeting Sept. 23 attracted Greg Bialecki, the state secretary of housing and economic development, and Andre Porter, the director of the state Office of Small Business and Entrepreneurship, to a conference room at the Enterprise Center on Loring Avenue.

It was a $20,000 grant from Porter's office that got the initiative off the ground, allowing Joycelyn Snell, a career coach and president of Professional Career Solutions of Boston, to develop the mentoring program.

Bialecki said the grant took a bit of entrepreneurial thinking on behalf of the state, which does not normally target its resources at business that are doing well. But it does make sense to do this if the state wants to grow the next Gillette, he said.

The Bay State has always been a great place to start a business, but it has not always been seen as the greatest place to grow it. The aim of the grant is to provide support to grow small companies into big ones, he said.

"We are helping you not so much with your struggles as we are helping you with your growth," Bialecki said.

Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673 or eforman@salemnews.com.