Uniontown businesswoman Tonya Townsend is off to a great start with navigating the road to success during her first year as an independent insurance agent.
The 42-year-old entrepreneur credits services offered by the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) at St. Vincent College to getting her feet off the ground.
“They have been a great help,” said Townsend, owner of Farmers Insurance Agency in Uniontown.
“It’s given me the ability to have a family run business with my daughter and husband helping me and my mom working for me part-time,” said Townsend.
Not knowing where to start with financing and business plan assistance, Townsend said a friend referred her to Bridgeway Capital in Uniontown.
The nonprofit lender, based in Pittsburgh, creates loans to meet the needs of growing small businesses and connects entrepreneurs with business education opportunities across western Pennsylvania.
“Our goal is to see them succeed,” said Reid Smith, director at Bridgeway’s Uniontown location on Main Street.
Bridgeway Capital also has increasing partnerships with education institutions, Small Business Development Centers (SBDCs), and consulting organizations while expanding direct consulting to borrowers and evaluating the effectiveness of its programs.
Bridgeway put Townsend in touch with St. Vincent College SBDC, where she received guidance from director James Kunkel.
“He kept me on track with what I needed to do,” said Townsend.
The SBDC is a public/private partnership with the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development and 18 universities and colleges across the Commonwealth, including St. Vincent College, which covers Fayette and Westmoreland counties.
The Center provides entrepreneurs with individual consulting services and educational programs from start up to growth and transition.
Kunkel said the business plan is a collaborative process between the entrepreneur, SBDC and lender. “It’s a tool that allows an entrepreneur to really think through all the details,” he added.
Typically, Kunkel, said a business plan takes several months to complete because it covers target marketing, financial projections, and budget analysis.
In 2014, Kunkel said SBDC worked with 23 clients of start-up and existing businesses and completed 20 formal business plans.
According to Smith, the number of small start up and existing businesses in the county applying for loans through Bridgeway is on the rise. following the opening of the Uniontown office last June.
Townsend said SBDC prepared her business plan that was then submitted to Bridgeway, which approved a loan.
“It all lined up and she was able to get capital to start her own business,” said Kunkel.
Townsend said she later learned of a number of technical services Bridgeway offers small businesses and organizations that she is now using to move forward.
Currently, Bridgeway is assisting Townsend with developing a website for her insurance agency in addition to an annual marketing plan.
Depending on what stage a small business is in, Smith said said Bridgeway recommends entrepreneurs utilize the company’s technical assistance, that is also built into certain loan closing packages.
Townsend said she is in the process of using another service from Bridgeway that is geared to reach out to potential and existing customers by email in accordance with a monthly newsletter produced by Farmers.
Also, Townsend is receiving help with QuickBooks application and plans to enroll in a marketing class.
“I wouldn’t be here and had such a great year without them,” said Townsend.
Those interested in joining the Be Local Network can contact Clint Rhodes at 724-439-7518 or by email at email@example.com. Discount cards are available at the Herald-Standard, 8 East Church St., Uniontown, and at the Greene County Messenger, 82 West High St., Waynesburg.