Environment and Economic Development and Technology and Small Business

Small talk with new SBDC chief: Central Indiana counseling office gets fresh start after years of uncertainty

December 25, 2006

Victoria Hall this year took over the Central Indiana Small Business Development Center, which counsels more than 500 Hoosier entrepreneurs annually.

Hall, a former vice president for H&R Block Tax Services, oversees four employees, including three business counselors. She also teaches part-time at Ivy Tech Community College, which hosts the local SBDC. She earned her MBA from the Indiana Institute of Technology in Fort Wayne.

One of 11 regional centers in Indiana, Central Indiana SBDC has been plagued in recent years by high turnover and the lack of a host organization. Indiana University dropped its sponsorship and partial funding of the $500,000-a-year operation in 2001. Ivy Tech stepped up in July, offering funding and stability.

The organization, which operates under the umbrella of the Indiana Economic Development Corp., also gets funding from the U.S. Small Business Administration.

Hall, 46, started her job as the local center's director in October. Earlier this month, she told IBJ that Indiana is making progress building an environment that allows small businesses to prosper.

IBJ: With so many different economic

development groups, how can entrepreneurs make sense of it all?

HALL: That is something we talk about a lot in our strategic meetings. We work really hard to put ourselves in the place of these business owners. It can be confusing.

The Indiana Economic Development Corp. is rolling out a master plan for all the SBDCs in the state. One of the things we're trying to address is how to work with other organizations that serve small businesses and do a better job of referring and getting small businesses the help they need.

IBJ: Any ideas yet on how to accomplish that?

HALL: One of the things we're doing in our center is making sure we have materials available that provide names of various organizations that can assist small business owners in their communities.

IBJ: How has the SBDC's role changed as small-business programs grow?

HALL: It's not so much changing as it's making sure we do a good job with each and every client. And we do more working with our partnership organizations, the economic development groups and chambers of commerce.

IBJ: What other challenges do Small Business Development Centers face?

HALL: For counselors, just staying up to speed on all the different business regulations that are out there for a broad spectrum of industries.

IBJ: Is it getting easier or more difficult to start a business in Indiana?

HALL: I think it's easier just in the fact there are more resources. There's more attention paid to small business. Small businesses actually employ 50 percent of workers in Indiana. Yeah, there's a lot more out there to navigate, more credits available, programs available, benefits available. It can be more confusing.

But because of all of those, if you're really motivated to open that business and willing to spend the time to find out what resources are available, that makes it easier to start a business here.

IBJ: What are you doing to follow up with businesses you've helped?

HALL: In the past, the SBDC has been primarily charged with helping startups. We're going to start working [more] with existing businesses.

We're trying to be proactive and check in with them every couple of months, asking whether they are having any issue or challenges we could help with. It's being a little more proactive to help ensure businesses are successful in the early years.

IBJ: What do you like about your job?

HALL: I've mentioned all these groups I answer to-the SBA, Indiana Economic Development Corp. Ivy Tech is our host. It can kind of seem like you would get pulled in different directions. But right now, all those groups are aligned with their missions. That has made it easy to work with them.

IBJ: What's the worst part?

HALL: There can be days when there's too much to do. A lot of jobs are like that-so many hours in the day to get to meetings, you can't find the time to sit down and do the thinking and planning. It's fast-paced. You gotta keep up. ... If you slow down too much, you'll be overtaken.

IBJ: Have you ever started a business?

HALL: In a sense, yes. I was a selfemployed business consultant for several years [after leaving H&R Block.] My area of expertise was decision support. What we did was go in a company and assess what data they have, and we would reconfigure to provide data to help them make good, accurate business decisions.

IBJ: If you were to start a business now, what would it be?

HALL: It would either be going back to decision-support consulting or something to do with dogs, whether it's a kennel or a day care or a retail shop. I have five beagles (Shakey, Jesse, Ladybug, Shalom and Watson). I rescue senior beagles. ... I try to help where I can.
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