May 18, 2010
Technology Center opens for business in Southside

Technology Center opens for business in Southside


Bulletin Staff Writer

Martinsville Mayor Joe Cobbe was excited by all of the cooperation involved in starting the new Business Technology Center (BTC) at the West Piedmont Business Development Center uptown.

"I don't get excited about a whole lot of things," said Cobbe, who serves on the BTC's local board. "But this (center) is one of the best things that's ever happened to this area."

The BTC's mission is to provide top-quality business assistance to existing and emerging organizations, individuals and companies to enhance their competitiveness through technology, said board Chairman Candace Payne. "It will help propel Martinsville, Henry County and the surrounding area into the new (high-tech) economy," she said of the office that is located in the West Piedmont Business Development Center in Martinsville.

Cobbe had no doubt that enough resources could be leveraged to start the local affiliate. After seeing disagreements and "turf battles" among different sectors of the community in recent years, though, what surprised him is that so many organizations and institutions were willing to share their resources to launch the center. "Every participant's reaction has been 'What can I do?'," he said. The BTC "is something whose time has come." A grand opening celebration for the center was held Tuesday.

The center actually opened in February after Executive Director Eva Doss was hired. It is an affiliate of the Virginia Tech Business Technology Center in Blacksburg. The university's Pamplin College of Business launched its BTC in 1992 as a resource for small technology-based businesses.

"Our key objective is having a smooth-running (center) in Martinsville, and it's all coming together," said John Politis, director of Virginia Tech's BTC. By working together, Doss said, "I believe we can make a difference" in the community's economic development.

"People say 'I know how to do it better -- nobody's ever asked me, but I know how to do it better,'" said Richard E. Sorensen, dean of the Pamplin College of Business. "Now's the time to come forward" and start a small business using those skills.

Consultants, university faculty members and student interns counsel with small businesses on start-up procedures, accounting and record keeping, planning issues, finding sources of capital, financial analysis, sales and marketing and other components of operating a business, according to BTC officials.

Business students from Patrick Henry Community College, Ferrum College and Averett University do market analysis and prepare business plans and financial forecasts for firms that pay for the center's services. Working in real-life situations gives the students first-hand experience they cannot get simply by reading textbooks, Politis said. Some BTC interns have gone on to work for the companies they helped, he added.

Doss said that at least a dozen area businesses have received assistance or inquired about BTC services since the local office was launched.

Cobbe said the BTC is able to examine someone's "high-falutin'" business plans and provide the assistance needed to make those plans a reality.