GrowSmart is the signature program within Alabama SBDC aimed at entrepreneurs and high-growth businesses. Through five modules held one day per week for five weeks, companies learn the secrets behind self-analysis and management in the modern business climate. The Alabama Small Business Development Center Network has some business-savvy instructors leading GrowSmart but the true genius in the program is the collaboration of participants.
GrowSmart helps small businesses in Alabama help each other
“GrowSmart is not death by PowerPoint. It is not a lecture,” said Michael Brooks, associate director of the Alabama SBDC at the University of Alabama. “It is working on your business – using the tools and talking about the tools business owners need to grow their business. (It’s) interactive and also helps to build community because you’ve got small businesses – not competitors, nobody competing directly with each other – working with each other, sharing notes, commiserating and then sharing successes of how they’ve overcome and how they’ve succeeded.”
Suzanne Howell, supplier diversity analyst with Alabama Power, said the company has sponsored the program for two years and sponsors small businesses to participate in the program.
“People are able to bounce ideas off each other,” she said. “Each of the business owners have shared things that they’ve experienced over the years. We’ve had people who have been in business for 30, 35 years and then there have been some businesses that are just early stages – three or four years – so it’s been interesting to see some of the businesses that have been in business for years share things and then you see those young business owners have an ‘Aha!’ moment.”
One of those moments came from Joe Daniel, president and owner of Streamline CXO.
“I was cautiously optimistic about what to expect. I wasn’t real sure but I figured I would come explore because you can always learn something,” he said. “What I got out of it was much more. It’s been very beneficial. The information that was shared was not just relevant, but it was timely. It wasn’t just the same old business class information. It was actually things that are going to help us in our efforts.”
Brooks said the program started in Georgia, where Georgia Power, Alabama Power’s sister company, supported it and saw how it helped small businesses grow.
“The SBDC provides training and technical assistance to small- and medium-sized companies that are in growth mode, and GrowSmart we identified as an established, proven training program with a very long track record,” Brooks said. “We work collaboratively with our friends at the Georgia SBDC. Just like Alabama Power and Georgia Power collaborate on projects, this was a great transfer of a program that worked really well in our neighboring Georgia and we wanted to bring that into Alabama to help our small businesses start and grow.”
“Our company is headquartered in the Atlanta area and we are opening a second location here in the Birmingham area,” she said.
The specialty chair rental company offers stylish seating for events and special occasions. It will soon open its first Alabama location in Homewood.
Hollis said she will use what she learned in GrowSmart as she expands her business.
“I had no idea, really, what to expect but the information has been priceless, the networking has been invaluable and there are just so many great nuggets that I was able to obtain and I’m looking forward to applying to my business,” she said.
Brooks said the hope is that companies don’t just end up with useful notes but are actually able to put what is learned into practice.
“We want people to walk away with the tools that they need to grow their business,” he said. “Each business had a different weak spot and they identified those. Some folks are changing the way they provide leadership within the company. Some are changing their HR issues. Others have experienced a whole new world of financial management that they were hesitant to explore before or they were very quick to turn over to a bookkeeper or CPA and they’re bringing that knowledge and expertise in-house.”
The Alabama SBDC is an outreach program of the University of Alabama’s Culverhouse College of Commerce.