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SBDC at SUNY Oswego aims to help grow online businesses

By Journal Staff

Date:

FULTON — The State University of New York (SUNY) Oswego Small Business Development Center and its Watertown Regional Center are launching a temporary office in Fulton to help displaced workers launch new businesses.

The effort is funded by a $100,000 portable assistance grant from the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA). The temporary office will house an e-commerce incubator specifically designed to help people launch companies online.

The office will help people assess skills, hobbies, and interests and aid in determining whether any of those things could lead to a small business, says Lawrence Perras, senior small-business adviser at the SUNY Oswego Small Business Development Center. The initiative will also involve one-on-one counseling and general training in launching a small business.

Program participants could be interested in starting a new Internet company or in taking an existing business online, says Chena Tucker, a business adviser at the center.

The main focus on the program will be on displaced workers in the Fulton area, Perras adds. Fulton has lost more than 2,000 manufacturing jobs since 1995, according to the center.

The portable assistance grant funding the effort is a portion of $588,000 available to Small Business Development Centers nationwide in 2011, according to SUNY Oswego. The grants are meant to help develop programs that can be implemented in areas hit with economic hardships like plant closings and natural disasters.

The temporary office in Fulton will be open for six months, but the hope is to take the model developed for the program and transport it to other areas, Perras says. That could include facilities owned by nonprofits or even libraries.

The process for developing new e-commerce businesses is the key piece of the program, Perras adds.

“The SBA really wants to see some kind of scalable program that can be moved,” he says.

Organizers expect online companies to appeal to displaced workers because they can be started fairly quickly, Tucker says. Overhead costs are also lower than when opening a physical location and the companies can be run 24 hours a day.

“It’s an easier kind of business to bootstrap and start with limited resources,” Tucker says.

Perras notes that many workers in manufacturing often already have second jobs or side businesses to supplement their incomes. That might include something like selling crafts at a flea market.

It’s a concept that could easily be moved online, Perras says. Small businesses like that don’t need to rely on the local economy alone.

“You have, really, the entire world as your market,” Perras says. “You may be able to take those things and make a viable business out of that and make a living.”

Perras says he first had the idea for an e-commerce incubator when meeting with a client years ago. The individual was frustrated by what he felt was a limited market area.

Partners on the project in Fulton include Lower Falls Development, Fulton’s Community Development Agency, and Operation Oswego County.

SUNY Oswego has 8,300 students and employs more than 1,800 full- and part-time faculty and staff. The school offers more than 110 programs of study.        

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