"You've Given Me Hope"

With the economy in a downturn, you might think this is a bad time to be starting or running a business. You might be wrong about that. There are experts who want to help you, for free, and some people who really want to lend you money.


Barb Plotkin of Madison has a passion for and expertise in copywriting. For quite a while, she's been thinking about how to turn that into a business, but wasn't quite sure where to start.

On June 28, she attended a session sponsored by the Madison Chamber of Commerce at the community room in the town's police station and heard experts from SCORE, volunteers who specialize in small business counseling, talk about how they wanted to help her with support and advice, and representatives from the Connecticut Community Investment Core (CTCIC) talk about how they were aggressively trying to lend money.

"Thank you," she said following the session, to SCORE Team Leader Joe Beerbower of Madison, who helped give the presentation. "You've given me hope."

Plotkin was one of several entrepreneurs, established business leaders, and others who attended the session Thursday, one of several planned by the local Chamber of Commerce. But the expertise, and lending support, is available to anyone in the state, experts there said. SCORE has chapters in Middletown, Guilford, Madison, Essex, Old Saybrook, Waterford, Mystic and Norwalk. And

People in the state interested in finding out about the Connecticut Community Investment Corporation (CTCIC)'s lending program can go to www.ctcic.org and those who want to access the help and guidance provided by a wide range of business experts can go to http://www.southeasternctscore.org/.

The counseling from SCORE, experts said Thursday, is ideally suited to helping both new entrepreneurs and established business people alike get set up to take advantage of millions in dollars of loan money that the state wants to put in the hands of state businesses. Money is available and the state wants it loaned out, now.

While working with SCORE is not a prerequisite to getting a loan from CTCIC, "if you start with SCORE and get the basics down, it'll be a lot easier to work with CTCIC," Beerbower said. "We can help get you prepared to be successful when it comes to getting a loan ... we're not saying you need it, but it would be smart to use it."

The CTCIC offers 504 loans, which can fund the purchase of a building, the expansion of an existing business, the construction of a new building from the ground up, or the purchase and installation of machinery and equipment, among other uses. 504 loans are sometimes funded up to 90 percent for the project and require limited collateral.

Microloans also are available for uses that include marketing programs, insurance premiums, and leasehold improvements.

Madison businessman Tom Banisch, who runs Chemswap, which provides transactional assistance to owners of chemicals and equipment, says he's glad he took advantage of SCORE counseling when he started Chemswap.

"I availed myself of their help when I started my business," he said during the presentation Thursday. He said an earlier attempt at starting a business failed, despite the fact that he had an MBA, a business plan, and a good idea. "I wrote a business plan as part of my MBA, we started a business and it went under."

Banisch decided to jettison that business, and his partners, and to meet with SCORE.

"I had an MBA and I thought I knew everything but, like they say, you don't know what you don't know," he said.

Beerbower, and Eric Munro of Madison, a small business mentor with SCORE, said that is exactly the point.

"It's amazing how much expertise you need to successfully run a business," Beerbower said. "Fourteen skill sets are required to successfully own and manage a business. Nobody has 14 skill sets. You might have three, you might have four, but nobody has all fourteen."

And that, for many businesspeople, and aspiring entrepreneurs, is where SCORE comes in. Beerbower and Munro said they meet, by appointment, with people from the community on Wednesdays at Liberty Bank in Madison. The only requirement is that people fill out a request for a meeting and questionaire, available on the http://www.southeasternctscore.org/ website. You can sign up online, or use the phone number provided on the website.

For more information about the CTCIC, you can visit their website.


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