A Turn For The Better

For one struggling startup, an incubator offered a turnaround solution

Cynthea Williams was facing adversity from her staff. Three of her employees, she says, were taking advantage of ‘her service-disabled veteran status, which provides access to set-aside government contracts, to set up their own businesses. The other four spent most of their time making personal phone calls instead of completing their contract assignments.

Personnel issues only compounded the challenges Williams had to confront shortly after she launched Another Level, her Tacoma, Washington-based supply company in March 2003. Having laid out $3,000 of her own money to fund her business, she was determined to save it. “I was at the point where I needed to get more contracts,” says Williams. “I didn’t have time to deal with my employee problems.” Williams decided to cut her losses. She fired her entire staff within three weeks.

The 43-year-old Army veteran then decided to pursue a promising opportunity to sell wholesale goods to the Army, Air Force, and Navy. Courting the armed forces as potential clients is often a good move for entrepreneurs. According to the Small Business Administration, small businesses were awarded $69.23 billion in federal government contracts in fiscal 2004, accounting for 23% of all government contracts.

But after four months and not a single government contract, Williams realized her expectation of generating $200,000 in revenues during her first year was unrealistic. Williams was now on her own, and her business outlook was bleak. “I began to wonder if I was as qualified as I had thought,” she admits. She knew her business couldn’t continue down this path or she’d soon be bankrupt. But she wasn’t ready to give up. She was confident that there was an opportunity for her as a government supplier. Her next step was to look for guidance and support, which she found at the William M. Factory Small Business Incubator.

Many entrepreneurs like Williams know how to produce the work but lack the skills necessary for operating a business and managing its costs. By taking advantage of local business

Although many small businesses run into trouble, few situations become dire without warning. “Like a relationship, things don’t go bad overnight,” says Marc Kramer, author of Streetwise Small Business Turnaround: Revitalizing Your Struggling or Stagnant Enterprise (Adams Media; $18). According to Kramer, in many cases, “it’s the small things that add up and then, like a dam, the water bursts through and you have to figure out how to plug the holes.” Signs of trouble include:

incubators, entrepreneurs can benefit from professional mentors who provide management guidance, technical assistance, and professional consulting to help young companies in trouble. There are about 1,000 business incubators in North America, up from only 12 in 1980, according to the National Business Incubation Association (www.nbia.org), an Ohio-based organization designed to advance business incubation and entrepreneurship.

The Factory incubator (www.williamfactory.com), a nonprofit established in 1986, assists small firms in the Tacoma-Pierce County area — many owned by women, minorities, or low-income entrepreneurs. More than 200 companies have graduated from the incubator, which was named 2005 Incubator of the Year by

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