Anne Arundel center combines group's small business resources

Service offers information, advice to entrepreneurs

Regional

February 13, 2004|By Sarah Lesher | Sarah Lesher,SUN STAFF

Kathy Miller opened an evening community mental health clinic, Naje Fattouche and Salim Hammoud are planning to clone a healthy fast-food restaurant and Jane Arason started manufacturing a futon that folds to look like a dresser.

These small businesses and many more are thriving with the help of the Anne Arundel Economic Development Corp., which just opened a Small Business Resource Center at its offices in Annapolis to make this help more readily available.

The center will create one-stop shopping for services that until now have been provided "in a haphazard way, on the fly," said Bill Badger, president and chief executive of the development corporation. The resource center will have a library with Internet access and a small business development counselor.

The one-stop center complements services already offered to small businesses by the department, including counseling by consultant Tom Frankovitch.

A former businessman, Frankovitch offers workshops at Anne Arundel Community College on "First Steps to Starting Your Own Business," followed by group and one-on-one sessions "to help them make sense of the whole thing," he said.

Miller said she brought Frankovitch three sheets of paper at their first meeting outlining her ideas for an urgent-care mental health services center open from 5 p.m. to midnight, seven days a week. He told her she had an excellent start - and gave her a 20-page document on how to create a business plan.

"I felt like I was writing a thesis," said Miller, 51, of Annapolis.

They continued to meet weekly, with Frankovitch offering encouragement, support and leadership. Oasis, the Center for Mental Health, opened this year in Annapolis. Now, Miller's working to alert medical practitioners and emergency rooms to this resource so that people know how to get services.

When Arason and her husband rented their house out for Annapolis Boat Show week, they looked for a bed that could fit into her office but didn't find anything suitable. Arason asked her husband, whose hobby is woodworking, to make something that looked like a chest of drawers but opened up into a futon bed. He did, and the Fu-Chest of Arason Enterprises was born.

She applied for a patent, and made industry contacts at the semi-annual International Home Furnishings Market in High Point, N.C.

"I came back from High Point knowing I had a great idea, and that the market liked it, but I had so many details to put together," including pricing, said Arason, 53.

She said that beginning entrepreneurs don't have the funds to pay someone for advice.

"Tom is great. Very encouraging. When you're just starting, it's pretty overwhelming. It's nice to have someone who has faith in you," Arason said.

Even established enterprises have profited from the counseling services.

Fattouche, 36, of Bowie and Hammoud, 36, of Burke, Va., grew up eating low-carb, low-fat Mediterranean food. They knew fast food was popular, but not always healthy. So they collected recipes from their wives and mothers and used their own money to start Maza Grill, a restaurant with healthy fast food, which opened in September in Annapolis Mall.

"The concept has taken off," said Hammoud. Many people who've eaten at Maza Grill have approached the owners to see if they can be partners or franchisees, he said. The pair turned to Frankovitch to learn what they needed to do to expand successfully.

"He explained the red meat of financing the project," Hammoud said. "It made us look smart - when investors ask for numbers, we have them. It helped us look a lot better than if we didn't. ... He came up with resources that, to be honest, we didn't even know existed."

Gaspare Aluzzo's Mainstay Enterprises Inc. was an established business that hit rough waters after Sept. 11, 2001. His firm is a government services corporation, and a lot of funds were redirected to other areas, he said.

"[Frankovitch] gave us guidance on who to talk to in the [federal] Small Business Administration, with a back-up plan for approaching local banks," said Aluzzo, 57, of Annapolis.

Now Mainstay is back on its feet, providing guidance to federal agencies on both cyber- and physical security.

Even though many small businesses fail within the first year, "none of mine have," said Frankovitch of the several hundred with which he's worked.

The Small Business Resource Center promises to make support available to a wider group of entrepreneurs.

"In Anne Arundel County, 98 percent of the enterprises are small businesses," Badger said.

The Small Business Resource Center is in the Heritage Office Complex, 2660 Riva Road, Suite 200. Hours: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday to Friday. 410-222-7410

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