March 14, 2006

Open for business: Southside Business Technology Center exceeding its goals for projects

Bulletin Staff Writer

The Southside Business Technology Center (BTC) has been operating at full tilt since opening its doors last May, said Executive Director Eva Doss.
"I feel very good about our results," said Doss. "We definitely reached our goals."

The BTC was created in early 2005 in partnership with Virginia Tech to provide business assistance to existing and emerging organizations, individuals or companies seeking to enhance their competitiveness through technology.

The center, which is funded through grants by The Harvest Foundation and Lucy P. Sale Foundation, was modeled after a similar program at Virginia Tech's Pamplin College of Business, which was founded in 1992. It is located at the West Piedmont Business Development Center in uptown Martinsville.

At the local BTC's first strategic planning meeting in July, Doss said the center set a goal for the year of delivering 15 major projects, which have usually taken the form of comprehensive reports that assess a company's strengths and make recommendations on how to overcome weaknesses.

So far, Doss, business analyst Stere Mergeani and interns from Tech and local colleges have completed 13 such projects and have some 10 more in the works.

"We're booked all the way through June," she said. "But that's a good problem to have."

An example of one of its projects would be if a business is having difficulty managing its finances, the reports might make suggestions for financial modeling, budgeting and pricing, said Doss.

Other enterprises, she said, are just getting off the ground and need help developing a business plan to procure capital from investors and banks as well as determine where and how to market their product.

In addition to the 13 major projects, the center has provided one-on-one counseling to more than 60 other clients, some of whom needed a slight nudge in the direction of certain resources and others who had ideas for companies that, after a little research, were determined to be unfeasible.

But Doss is not simply after numbers. BTC's success is better told, she said, by the effect it has had on the local businesses with which it has worked.

While measuring that impact is difficult because so little time has passed since BTC began offering its services, Doss said evaluation forms clients fill out after receiving assistance indicate the organization is making a difference.

In the evaluations, Doss said all of the BTC's clients have indicated that their work with the organization had helped them run their businesses more efficiently and led to an average profit increase of 12 percent in a single quarter. One company wrote that earnings surged by $500,000 during that time.

BTC suggestions have also helped businesses reduce costs, in some cases by as much as 50 percent, she said.

Doss said the center also is having an educational impact. At any given time, it uses between four and eight interns from Virginia Tech, Averett University and Patrick Henry Community College (PHCC), providing hands-on experience and mentoring that reinforces concepts learned in class.

"Depending on their program (of studies) and experience, interns are assigned certain parts of projects, in most cases research," Doss said. "As they grow, we try to give them more and more difficult tasks to give them the tools for successful strategic thinking."
The BTC is open to anyone who uses or will use technology in any capacity in the operation of a business. While the organization charges a fee for its services, because it is a nonprofit, its prices are lower than private consulting firms.