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Maryland SBDC Network’s Smart Start Program

Maryland Smart Startby Glenna E. Cush

Like most SBDC’s nationwide, the Maryland Network struggles with providing quality assistance to an ever-growing population of entrepreneurs and small businesses.  As with many SBDC Networks, Maryland finds itself in the position of doing “more with less.” With efficiency and maximizing counselor resources in mind, the Maryland network developed the “Smart Start Assessment,” a self-guided online program that provides an excellent gateway to a myriad of services and tools.  This assessment can helps users identify strengths and weaknesses so that we can give you relevant and detailed guidance, suggestions and resources.

Prior to accessing SBDC services, visitors to the site answer a series of simple questions designed to get them thinking about what they will face as a business owner while giving us at the SBDC valuable information about where they are in the process and how we can best assist them. The assessment is divided into three sections: the first is marketing, the second is financial and operational and the third section covers legal and organizational and includes questions like, “Have you ever worked in a managerial or supervisory capacity? Have you developed a start-up budget?” “Have you done research to determine if your product or service is needed?” Each question is weighted and once the assessment is completed, the client is immediately provided with a score and comprehensive analysis; However, it doesn’t stop there. Based on their responses, the client is provided a detailed “action plan” with access to resources such as free online training modules and links to get them started on the road to entrepreneurial success. The evaluation result and score is simultaneously sent to the region in the county where the pre-client lives. This provides an excellent starting point for discussion when the user contacts the SBDC office. Users who score high enough are immediately routed to e-center to request counseling services.

The Assessment tool was launched in the fall of 2007 and has been used by over 6768 NEW entrepreneurs (pre-clients) with a statewide average of 416 per month.

This tool has proven to be an invaluable part of the intake process and an excellent avenue which allows us to provide timely, relevant and personalized assistance to each customer.  Entrepreneurs love it because it provides immediate feedback and guidance they can put to immediate use.

 

To view/take the assessment, go to http://www.mdsbdc.umd.edu/smart_start.html

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