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A bigger bang for your buck.

National Organization Based At UCA Offers Small Businesses Free Consulting, Saves Them $16 Million Annually

If you ask the average Arkansan what first comes to mind at the mention of the University of Central Arkansas at Conway, he is likely to say the school's national championship football team.

Or Scottie Pippen, a former UCA basketball player who now is a member of the NBA champion Chicago Bulls.

Or the prestigious Honors College, a division of UCA for outstanding students.

But the average Arkansan is not likely to mention one of the more active organizations on campus.

An organization for which UCA is the national center.

An organization that is benefitting UCA students as well as the Arkansas economy.

With 540 university centers nationwide, the Small Business Institute Directors' Association, a federally funded program through the Small Business Administration, is providing free confidential consulting to businesses.

Each SBIDA center, which is directed by university faculty members, uses upper-level or graduate students to help small businesses with problems such as management, marketing, finance, accounting and computers.

The SBIDA has helped more than 125,000 small businesses nationwide since its formation in 1972. The same services would cost an estimated $16 million annually if professional consulting firms were used.

The SBIDA affords many small businesses the opportunity to expand into international trade, furthers development in rural areas and aids an increasing number of women, minorities and veterans.

Although the SBIDA program has been active for two decades, it wasn't until 1990 that a national center was formed.

Why was UCA chosen for the national center?

That's simple, according to Dr. Don B. Bradley, professor of marketing and management at UCA and the national center director.

* Dr. Homer Saunders, professor of marketing and management and director of the local UCA center, was one of the pioneers in SBIDA casework.

Bradley says Saunders started applying student consulting services 22 years ago, before the national program was federally funded.

* UCA was one of the first federally funded SBIDA programs in the nation, obtaining funds two decades ago. The program at Texas Tech University at Lubbock was the first.

* Bradley, who has worked with SBIDA for 16 years, was the national president when the center was formed in 1990.

* Sen. Dale Bumpers, as the chairman of the Senate Small Business Committee, was instrumental in obtaining federal funds for a UCA national center.

* The local SBIDA center at UCA is one of the most active in the country, handling about 30 cases per semester.

In June 1990, the national center was formed.

In March 1991, $200,000 in federal funding was granted to the national center, with which SBIDA set up a Small Business Advancement Network, a computer database that links all local centers.

The national center's main functions are to keep all SBIDA local centers abreast of current issues and to research and develop SBIDA projects.

A Fresh Approach

UCA's local center handles all Arkansas small business cases.

It has assisted amusement parks, restaurants, retail stores and accounting firms. Of the 11 other SBIDA centers in Arkansas, Bradley says the one at UCA is by far the most active.

"Small business is the backbone of Arkansas," Bradley says. "That's why Arkansas needs to be the world leader in |small business~. And that's exactly what we intend to accomplish at UCA."

Bradley and Saunders use the SBIDA program in their upper-level business courses.

Students are divided into teams of two or three. Each team is assigned a case, a small business that is seeking help from the SBIDA. A faculty advisor is on hand for consultation.

Each project consists of in-depth research, grounded in both primary and secondary sources.

Students spend their time at the assigned business or the library.

A final report constitutes the majority of the team's grade for the course. It consists of data, ratios, a log of hours spent working on the case and final recommendations for solutions to the business' problem.

Bradley says he looks for the quality and range of alternatives offered by students in their reports. He says a team spends from 50 to 100 hours on each case.

Currently, Bradley incorporates SBIDA casework into a graduate-level seminar on marketing.

"This semester was the first time MBA students have been used to zero in on new product development and new idea generation," he says.

"I tell |the students~, 'Hey, dream,'" says Bradley. "'Give these people as many ideas as you possibly can.'"

"The fresh ideas |students~ have come up with have saved Arkansas companies that would have gone bankrupt."

Students in Saunders' small business management course also handle their fair share of cases. Dr. William T. Bounds Jr. and Dr. Herff Moore, professors of marketing and management, also incorporate SBIDA cases into some of their coursework.

"These students are highly trained in many areas," says Bradley. "In one instance we located a ratio error for an accounting firm ... and changed the direction of the company."

Bradley says a small business is a lot like a marriage. Spouses sometimes get too comfortable and take each other for granted.

He says the same thing often happens in small business.

"An owner can neglect to add the freshness that keeps his business strong and growing," Bradley says. "We inject new blood."

Double Payoff

The benefits of the SBIDA program are twofold, according to Bradley. Businesses get free, quality consulting services and students get real business experience.

"Students find out they have the knowledge |to run a business~ and that gives them a big confidence boost," Bradley says.

Because students who participate in the program are required to do so in their classes, a few students occasionally grumble about the work, Bradley says. But when the project is completed, almost all agree that it was the most beneficial experience of their college careers.

"You learn a lot from books," says Randy Starkey, a UCA graduate student who participated in the program. "But there's nothing like real experience."

He says he now views owning a small business as a difficult but intriguing challenge.

According to Bradley, SBIDA does not encounter the problem of businesses questioning the judgment of students.

"We have companies on waiting lists," Bradley says. "They've seen the great work these students have done."

The SBIDA's reputation for helping businesses is spreading to other nations. Bradley says the SBIDA currently is helping a number of countries set up their own programs.

But, despite the SBIDA's reputation among small businesses, the organization does not receive much publicity.

The Small Business Development Center, also federally funded through the Small Business Administration, is more widely recognized.

Bradley claims this is because of the high level of confidentiality maintained by the SBIDA. Also, SBIDA does not publicly solicit clients -- they don't need to.

What they do need is more federal money in order to handle the surplus of cases.

Currently, the government contributes $500 per case to universities with SBIDA centers. The same services by professional consultants would cost from $15,000 to $30,000 per case, according to Bradley.

The SBIDA receives $3 million per year in federal funds; the SBDC receives $65 million. That's quite a gap -- one that Bradley would like to see narrowed.

Although SBIDA and SBDC centers frequently work together, and often out of the same office, Bradley says the SBI provides taxpayers "a bigger bang for their buck" by offering long-term, in-depth services.
COPYRIGHT 1992 Journal Publishing, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Small Business Institute Directors Association offers free consulting services
Author:Harper, Kim
Publication:Arkansas Business
Date:Jan 6, 1992
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