The UC Merced Small Business Development Center (SBDC), at 655 W. 18th St. in Merced, is one of six locations under the Central California SBDC Network that connects community members with no-cost business consulting, training, workshop, and webinar trainings.
“We service Merced and Mariposa Counties and provide confidential no-fee, one-on-one consulting for small businesses that already exist, or for startups,” explains Jessica Torres, an SBDC financial services analyst. “If there is someone that is looking to start up a business, we can definitely help them with that. In addition, we also have trainings that help educate those who are looking to start a business and help them plan.”
QuickBooks training, marketing workshops, employee programs, tax credits and updated information on available federal, state, and local funding options are just a few of the resources the development center has available to local residents.
“It’s the best kept secret,” says Priya Lakireddy, assistant regional director for the SBDC.
In 2003, UC Merced was awarded the management of the Central California SBDC Network. Aside from Merced and Mariposa County, the network provides services to following counties: San Luis Obispo, San Benito, Monterey, Stanislaus, Tuolumne, Mariposa, Fresno, Kings, Madera, Tulare, Kern, Mono, and Inyo.
“The UC has been overseeing the SBDC for almost 20 years now,” says Kurt Clark, executive director. “We have 15 active consultants right now across Merced County and approximately 150+ across all of the 14 counties we serve.”
During the pandemic, the SBDC added 245 new clients who received confidential assistance from the program. Twenty eight new businesses were started and 601 jobs were created between Merced and Mariposa County.
“We also have the California Dream Fund that is a grant program offered by the state with $32.5 million in micro grants available to start new businesses. These are either $5,000 or $10,000 grants,” Clark explained. “It’s pretty easy for a person who wants to start a new business that isn’t going to require a huge amount of capital to go through one of our training programs and qualify to get either grant from the state.”
Before residents apply for the grant, they must complete a six-week training course on general business. After completion, they are able to apply for funding. To be eligible to participate, the business must be operated in the counties that the SBDC serves, the business cannot be fully in business, and the business type must be approved as there are certain businesses that are not eligible under the California Dream Fund.
“If they are interested, we would set up an intake call with the client, and dive in deeper and see if they are a good fit for the program,” Torres adds.
The trainings for the Dream Fund are all done virtually, online, as well as most of the 1-on-1 consulting, seminars, and other trainings.
“We have adapted and brought onboard newer platforms to have the capacity to serve people virtually,” Clark says.
In the UC Merced SBDC 2021 Annual Report, Clark emphasized an expanded network that includes new funding partnerships and the addition of 20 new expert consultants, many of whom are bilingual.
“The network now has consultants who speak 11 different languages and many with expertise in business funding, operations, and marketing to help all of our local businesses recover, adjust operations, and connect with new customers,” he explains in the report.
The SBDC plans to hire even more experts in the near future to broaden the vision and the scope of assistance they have readily available to the public.
“We are currently seeking additional consultants, or business advisors, particularly those who represent an emphasis on DEI, people who represent minorities, veteran consultants, people that have a background that will help us reach an underserved populations,” Clark explains. “We are also looking for people who have a particular expertise. For example, people who have experience in international trade, exporting background, someone who may have government or corporate procurement background.”
The center hopes to develop a deeper connection to the surrounding communities, and continue economic development with local, state, and federal funding.
“We are here to help the local people,” Lakireddy emphasized. “We are part of the UC, but also are part of the community.”
If you would like to apply to become a new client or have any questions regarding consultations and advisories, please reach out to the UC Merced SBDC website at https://ucmercedsbdc.com, or call to make an appointment at (209) 228-3506.