SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

August 29, 2012

Helping businesses get to the next level

By Will Broaddus
Staff Writer

---- — Christine Sullivan is all business.

As chief executive officer of the Enterprise Center at Salem State University, she runs an incubator and resource for small business development. It’s something she knows about firsthand. For 16 years, she had her own small business, Hawthorne Associates, a marketing, advertising and public relations firm.

Each fall, she organizes a series of workshops, panel discussions and peer groups where businesspeople can hear from experts — including each other — about topics ranging from marketing and cash flow to preparing for retirement. She chatted with The Salem News recently about this fall’s program.

Are all your workshops for small businesses? I see you also have programs for young professionals and nonprofit organizations.

We try to cover a range of issues, but our major focus is on small businesses, in all stages of their development. So if you’re a startup, we can help you. If you’re growing and need to learn to grow a business — to get to the next level in your business — wherever you are in your development, we can help. We offer such a wide variety of programs, if you’ve got any issues — planning, financing, transition — you will find something that will help you.

How is a small business defined?

The Small Business Administration legal definition is fewer than 500 employees, and $10 million or $15 million in revenue. But that would be a big business here on the North Shore.

When did the Enterprise Center open?

It opened in 1999. It is affiliated with Salem State University and is located on the central campus. We have a 53,000-square-foot office building with 45 business and nonprofit tenants. But our view is we should be able to help any small business on the North Shore, and we have thrown open our doors. This past year, we ran 70 workshops. I expect by the end of this year we’ll have 6,000 registrations for these programs, (representing) 4,000 to 5,000 businesses — a lot.

Are the businesses all local?

Last year, people came from 143 communities, representing 42 percent of the state. We see ourselves as an economic engine for the North Shore, but people have found us from all over the place.

What kinds of businesses are they in?

Everything from a mom-and-pop to a high-tech company. A number of people in the creative economy and the local food economy, medical device businesses, consultants, plumbing, heating and cooling. Blue-collar, white-collar, no-collar.

What programs will you be offering this fall?

Programs this fall have a very wide range. If you’ve been laid off and want to start a business, (we have) “From Employee to Self-Employed.” We have programs on social media, marketing, one on crowd funding, which is a new way for businesses to get funding.

How does that work?

You can put (a proposal) out on the Internet. People are doing that now. In the past, you could get it from family members, but you couldn’t get it from strangers. I think the Securities and Exchange Commission prohibited it. But they’ve eliminated that.

What other programs do you have for small businesses?

It’s everything from how to start a business, how to grow a business, to how to keep your good workers. We even have a workshop on the use of Legos and other things that will spur you to think outside of your own box. Workshops as basic as cash flow and business insurance. We have a breakfast series designed to help entrepreneurs who are looking for angel investors and venture capital.

Are there any new workshops you want to mention specifically?

We’re running a series called the Baby Boomer Transition Series. A lot of baby boomers are looking increasingly at retirement, looking at financial planning for retirees. We’re doing a series to help them think it through. If you’re getting closer to retirement, it’s how to plan what kind of life you want to lead.

Anything else in particular?

We have one on how to start a business, in Spanish, on Oct. 18, because we know there’s a large Spanish community that’s interested.

How much do workshops cost?

Almost all of them are free. We do have programs people pay for. One, “Million Dollar Women,” is about women who have risen in the ranks to run organizations that have over $1 million in revenue. We have two programs on growth for next-level companies, on skills for getting to the next level. ... We give them a mentor, and they’ll belong to a group of business owners and they get intense seminars — it’s a three-part program. If you’re taking a workshop (that charges), the cost is to help us defray free coffee to everybody. But most are free because we don’t want to put barriers in front of people who want to learn.

What’s the most important impact these workshops have?

The key of this to me, for business owners — I was one for 16 years — it’s lonely, you don’t have many people to talk to. If you have trouble making payroll, you don’t want to talk to your employees about that. And if you have a new product that you’re excited about, and your spouse’s eyes glaze over, you’re in a group of people that get it. What I think is important is, if you’re a small business owner and you have a need and you want to spark off other business owners and what it’s like to be a business owner, check out our website: enterprisectr.org.