We recently spoke with Vicki Resech, Interim Executive Director at MCDEVCO, about their new GEARS Center co-working space to find out who they see as benefiting from it and how it fits within MCDEVCO overall.
Q: What was the impetus behind the GEARS Center?
Vicki: The GEARS Center came about as part of the process of developing our educational programs. Initially, what we found was that sometimes entrepreneurs in Marathon County are missing certain skills to run and manage their businesses. It could be not knowing how to create their budgets and/or financial statements, obtaining financing, marketing or writing a business plan. As our base of entrepreneurs grew, it became too much for one person to handle the one-on-one mentoring alone. I recruited a group of mentors – business professionals from throughout Marathon County – to come in and teach classes, assist with one-on-one mentoring, and work with the entrepreneurs. Each of the professional business volunteers creates and teaches a curriculum based on their expertise.
As we began to work with them, we discovered that entrepreneurs struggle with three major items: cash flow, being able pay themselves, and covering a long-term lease. Paying themselves and covering a lease are the two largest expenses they have after making loan repayments. Research showed me that co-working centers were doing well on the East and West Coasts, giving entrepreneurs, independent contractors, etc., an economical place to do their work and network. Filling that GAP here is part of our mission, alongside GAP financing, education, and Women Mentoring Women.
Q: How many mentors do you have available to work with the entrepreneurs
Vicki: We currently have 25 volunteer business professionals from throughout Marathon County to do one-on-one mentoring, create, and run classes and/or workshops for MCDEVCO. Each volunteer has a commitment to our entrepreneurs and small business owners from throughout the County.
Q: What are the goals that you have set for the facility in terms of your target member?
Vicki: Our initial focus is professional services to include but not limited to accountants, advertising/marketing, collaborating agencies, independent contractors, and freelancers. This base has naturally grown out of the type of mentors and classes that we have taught. In the future, we will increase our technology to attract web/app designers, inventors, and more. We also do four surveys per year, asking our community and entrepreneurs whether we are meeting their needs for classes, spaces, and other opportunities in Marathon County. Everything we do here is based upon meeting the needs as defined by the community.
Q: Even though your initial emphasis is on professional services, are you open to other types of businesses, say small manufacturing or businesses that create products?
Vicki: That is what the GEARS Center is all about! If you and someone else, or a team, are designing a widget, instead of doing it at your kitchen table with your children running around or other distractions, come in, rent the Idea Center with a chalk wall, collaborate, and get your plans together. From there, we will take your plans and get you a 3D print of it. Then fine-tune your design and we will work with you to find a manufacturer with whom you can collaborate with to produce a prototype. The inventor(s) can then take that prototype and participate in our Dolphin Tank (we are not sharks!) where you pitch your product to possible investors and manufacturers. The outcomes we are hoping for is to find someone who is willing to invest in them and their product, a company will manufacture the product or collaborate with them on it or maybe even buy their patent and/or product.
Q: Do you view MCDEVCO as the glue holding together the network of entrepreneurs?
Vicki: At MCDEVCO, our strategic plan is to fill the GAPs for entrepreneurs with funding, education and opportunities. I guess we could be considered the glue. Here is what we do that makes us unique: with our GAP financing, we cannot be the lead but partner with financial institutions to complete loan packages. Our difference is that, as your loan partner, along with our educational programs, helping you build your business plan, and giving you a place to operate from initially, we work alongside you for your success. Through a networking (the GEARS Center) of liked minded individuals, our Pop-Up Shops, and Annual Meeting, we start that kind of collaboration that builds success for the entrepreneurs and small businesses through the County.
Q: Do you have any other examples of how you may collaborate with an entrepreneur over the long term?
Vicki: Our educational classes and workshops keep the small business owner informed. As a business grows, changes or has a problem (we call it pivoting), we at MCDEVCO come alongside the entrepreneur to assist them. This assistance could be our classes, one-on-one mentoring, or if they are a loan client – an adjustment of their loan payment terms for a short time period.
These are just some of the benefits of being here at the GEARS Center. We are not just providing space, or a computer, although we do have brand new laptops loaded with the latest business software available for use here! We connect you to a whole network of resources and expertise to help start and grow your business.