Putting `stock' in small business

Nonprofit to offer financial assistance, mentoring to companies

July 15, 2002|By TaNoah Morgan | TaNoah Morgan,SUN STAFF

Project VisionShare is a nonprofit, but the organization is in line to help entrepreneurs make more money.

The newly formed organization, which will have an official launch at Oakland Manor on Wednesday, is an incubator without walls, created to help entrepreneurs form their business ideas and get money to help keep their fledgling businesses running.

The program, founded by Brian J. McIntyre, will provide entrepreneurs in any field with low- or no-interest loans up to $25,000, business courses and mentoring support over a two-year period.

It's the kind of help McIntyre, who also founded the human resources consulting firm, Working Concepts Inc., said he could have used.

"Financial assistance ... at the early stages ... was really a challenge to me when I started Working Concepts," McIntyre said. "We're looking at helping any type of business with a solid business plan."

McIntyre, who merged Working Concepts last year with management consulting giant Towers Perrin, has set aside $250,000 to start the organization, and is hoping to raise at least another $100,000 in contributions from business associates by the end of the year.

The organization's goal is to mentor a class of up to five businesses each year. McIntyre said he hopes to find about three companies by December to begin the process.

Project VisionShare will make loans from the foundation's endowment or use the endowment as collateral on bank loans to the businesses that are accepted in its program. Howard Community College will provide the monthly mandatory businesses courses for participating entrepreneurs, and volunteers from the Service Corps of Retired Executives and VisionShare board members will act as mentors.

The program is similar to those offered by the county's small-business resource center, which routinely offers seminars on entrepreneurial topics, and the Jim Rouse Entrepreneurial Fund, which helps get funding for companies that traditionally have trouble obtaining conventional bank loans.

But Richard W. Story, executive director of the Howard County Economic Development Authority, which runs the resource center said he welcomes the help.

"Even if there's some redundancy, not every entrepreneur will find assistance available to them," he said. "The more support services we have, the better."

Microenterprises, or very small businesses, are so under-funded that the U.S. Small Business Administration began a program last year for investment in such businesses. According to the agency, more than 2 million businesses are operated by low-income or very low-income entrepreneurs, but only a fraction of that population receives business help.

McIntyre said his group's goal is to assist without financial strings attached. Although the organization will help businesses obtain loans, it will not hold stock in the businesses, he said.

"Our plans are on working very closely and providing objective advice. We don't want to cloud our judgment by having stock in the organization, other than to see them successful as a business," he said. "The intent of the program is not to deliver funds, it's to build relationships and provide connectivity between owners and community experts."

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