Dave Schenker and Patrick Johnston made national and international news in 2011 when their club’s Chevy S-10 pickup broke land speed records for vegetable-fueled vehicles in a race in the Mojave Desert.
Since then, Schenker and Johnston have formed the Garden City-based Greenspeed Research, a small nonprofit business that focuses on promoting STEM education through unorthodox mechanical projects like their pickup. They’re refining their S-10, hoping to conquer the records of comparable vehicles running on fossil fuels, while developing STEM programs for high school students.
While working on engines comes naturally to the pair, running and promoting educational programs does not. They have received technical assistance and advice along the way from groups like the Boise State University Venture College, but they’re still listening to the advice of experienced business founders to find their way.
Thinking about the job ahead for Schenker and Johnston prompted me to create a list of groups that help entrepreneurs in southwestern Idaho. University programs, the state, the federal government, nonprofits, lawyers and even banks run small business assistance programs of one type or another.
Apologies to any group inadvertently left off the list. I’ve tried to create a useful summary of the many capable local people working toward the same goal: helping the area’s go-getters turn their good ideas into good businesses.
Boise Angel Alliance
The Angel Alliance is a group of more than 100 well-off individuals who invest in promising local startups and who provide advice and networking in return.
Boise State TECenter
Less colloquially known as the James E. Hogge Technology and Entrepreneurship Center, this Nampa nonprofit offers individual and group coaching, classes and workshops, introductions to industry experts and business mentors to startups. It also has 40,000 square feet of co-working, individual office spaces and common areas for entrepreneurs to interact with their peers.
Food Technology Center/Caldwell Business and Technology Incubator
A 7,000-square-foot food processing facility in Caldwell run by the University of Idaho. It provides business and technical assistance to help entrepreneurs and established food companies develop or improve their food businesses.
Idaho Nonprofit Center
This nonprofit provides technical assistance, training, and Webinars for its nonprofit business members. A valuable resource for nonprofit entrepreneurs is the regional forums held each year. Here, leaders of small nonprofits can meet others and find ways to share expertise and collaborate to increase their impact.
Idaho Small Business Development Center
Like Tech Help, SBDC is housed in Boise State’s College of Business and Economics, or COBE, building. It has 20 consultants in that office and others in six offices around the state.
The SBDC, a federal program, coaches business leaders on how to improve their businesses. It also offers many training programs – way too many to list here – focusing on good business practices, from funding pitches to intellectual property. SBDC also serves business owners with special expertise, such as exporting. Many of its programs are free.
Idaho TechConnect was created to bridge the gap between innovation and entrepreneurial assets such as money and facilities. It’s a private-public organization focused on technology development, transfer and commercialization. It offers services in commercialization, raising capital, business teambuilding, and networking. TechConnect has regional offices in Boise, Nampa, Post Falls, Jerome, Pocatello and Idaho Falls.
The Boise iteration of this national group, which includes an angel investor network, was launched in 2007 and has a new president this year, Jolene Anderson.
Micro Enterprise Training and Assistance
META, a Boise-based nonprofit, specializes in support for very small local businesses through things like microloans, one-on-one consulting, and business plan training courses. An integral piece of META is the Idaho Women’s Business Center (which also serves men). Like META, the Women’s Business Center offers individual business consulting, training, and access to financing for very small start-ups or expansion. It’s aimed at entrepreneurs who are stymied by lack of education and training, lack of funding, familial challenges, societal obstacles or all of the above. Programs run by both are free or very low cost.
Service Corps of Retired Executives
SCORE, a national nonprofit with a Treasure Valley office, is allied with the Small Business Association. It provides experienced business leaders as mentors to new entrepreneurs. These mentors provide free confidential help and counseling for small businesses.
Southwest Idaho Manufacturer’s Alliance
Launched last year, this group is aimed at somewhat established businesses, and plans to offer regular informational meetings on tax strategies and incentives, financing, human resources, supply chain, the regulatory environment, certifications, and other technical information of interest to manufacturers.
This Palo Alto-based international organization aims to connect entrepreneurs with each other, with funding, and with other resources. Jessica Whiting launched the Boise branch in January.
“One of my personal goals for Boise is to build a better bridge to Silicon Valley,” she said Sept. 29. “There are more venture capitalists and investors from Palo Alto that travel here than many people realize and they’ll call and say, ‘Jess, I want to meet a few of the A-Gamers in Boise’ and so we’ll quietly put together a few meetings for founders that we know are ready.”
State of Idaho
The state Department of Commerce offers help with decoding local, state, and federal taxes, licensing and permitting. It also provides information on funding resources, and on state and local grants that might apply, such as the Workforce Development Training Fund. The state Department of Labor also provides training for employers in an array of areas, much of it low-cost or free.
A partnership between Boise State, Idaho State University, and the University of Idaho, TechHelp has 12 staff members and an array of consultants who work with manufacturers around the state, many of them in food industries. Idaho companies pay TechHelp to provide assistance in very technical areas such as food safety programs and reducing energy consumption. Growth and innovation is the biggest area of focus for TechHelp, which runs a new product development lab in the College of Engineering.
“What we try to do is take methodologies and best practices proven in industry, and bring them, scaled appropriately, to small companies,” said Executive Director Steve Hatten.
Run by seasoned local investor Kevin Learned, Venture College is a year-long, free business course for would-be entrepreneurs, run through Boise State University. Started last year, Venture College has graduated some fledgling enterprises already.
Zions Bank Business Resource Center
The Zions Bank Business Resource Center helps new or existing entrepreneurs to start, expand and finance their businesses with knowledge, tools and guidance for success. The Business Resource Center delivers group workshops and trainings as well as customized one-on-one guidance. Consulting services, workshops and referrals are free to any Idaho entrepreneur, regardless of where they bank.
If I’ve left any off the list, I hope they’ll contact me. Others have fizzled in the last year or two, though they maintain an outdated presence online. While there appear to be many groups providing duplication of services, Hatten said he was more concerned that entrepreneurs wouldn’t know the breadth and extent of the services available, often free of charge.
“These organizations do way more than we know,” he said.
Anne Wallace Allen is the managing editor of the Idaho Business Review.