Staten Islanders who want to start a business or expand an existing one have an expert friend at CSI–the Small Business Development Center (SBDC).

Offering its many free, confidential services to both small business owners and new entrepreneurs, the SBDC assists clients with such essentials as discovering sources of funding and obtaining loans, developing an all-important business plan, devising business strategies, controlling cash flow, and marketing successfully. Businesses also receive assistance in order to comply with licensing requirements and other regulations, assess the viability of an invention, and identify avenues for exporting goods and services.

Since 1993, according to Dean Balsamini, Director of the Center for the past five years, the SBDC has worked with some 5,000 businesses, which have invested $115 million in the area’s economy and created or saved more than 3,800 jobs. Regarding the businesses that the Center has helped, he said, almost 50 percent are minority-owned and almost evenly divided by gender.

In these difficult economic times, he noted, the Center has experienced “a substantial increase” in the number of clients requesting help–in fiscal 2008-2009, there was a 40-percent increase over the preceding year in the number of clients seeking SBDC services.

Of the 24 Small Business Development Centers throughout New York State, the Center at CSI has been able to obtain the most ARC (America’s Recovery Capital) loans for its clients, through various Small Business Administration-approved commercial lending sources.

Balsamini attributes the Center’s numerous successes to its understanding of clients’ needs and abilities, and tailoring advice accordingly. “In addition, we’re working with key partners involved in the community and enlisting others similarly committed,” including the Staten Island Chamber of Commerce, Staten Island Economic Development Corporation, the Small Business Administration (SBA), Local Business Development Corporations (LBCs), women’s groups, community boards, and SCORE, as well as the CSI administration and faculty.

He finds it “very gratifying to work within a very supportive environment at CSI. Led by CSI President Dr. Tomás Morales and Provost [and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs] Dr. William Fritz, we have exceptional leadership, which is tuned into the business community and enables us to be a strong force in it. Especially in this distressed economy, it is imperative to understand the community’s needs.”

In addition to one-on-one counseling, the Center last year conducted 30 seminars and training workshops, eight of them on financial literacy. Consistent with the diversity of small business ownership on Staten Island, four were given in Spanish.

Balsamini, formerly an executive at AT&T and head of a local not-for-profit agency, teaches marketing and consumer behavior at CSI, and heads a staff of five individuals who have expertise in such disciplines as business, finance, and banking.

He feels the Center’s results are “based upon our ability to reach out to all demographics and work with and meet the needs of all elements of the Staten Island small business community, including new immigrants, minorities, veterans, and people with special needs.

Individuals seeking the Center’s help begin by setting up an appointment at the Center on the CSI campus, filling out a form and meeting with an intake office manager, who determines the kind of assistance required, related to the type of business entity being considered.

In cases where a business model is unrealistic or perhaps not connected to the applicant’s experience, Balsamini said that an alternative is suggested, and its advantages are outlined. One such case involved a woman who had been an academic who wanted to embark on a retail business. When Balsamini asked her whether she had ever worked in retail she said, “No, I shopped.” He helped her to find an alternative.

Besides mentoring and sharing information about the latest in business trends and technology, the Center serves as an advocate for small businesses.

Among the many businesses helped by SBDC, Balsamini cites the French Twist salon as a “great success story. It’s a small business that evolved over time, through hands-on management and strong customer-service, into an expansive model, within a potential high-growth area on the South Shore of the Island.”

In 2008, the three sisters who own French Twist, Annabella Bracco, Kathy Quadrato, and Rose Orlino, sought the Center’s advice, and SBDC counselors helped them to develop a business plan (which Balsamini calls “a road map for success”), enabling them to secure commercial funding. The size of the salon doubled.

Two SBDC Nominees Honored as Small Business “Champions”

The SBDC at CSI recently enjoyed success of a different kind as two of six individuals who received major awards from the SBA during National Small Business Week were individuals it had nominated.

They are Linda Baran, president and CEO of the Staten Island Chamber of Commerce, and Bart Horowitz, former senior business writer and columnist for the Staten Island Advance, both honored for being “champions” of small businesses.

Ms. Baran was recognized as “Women in Business Champion of the Year” and Horowitz as “Financial Services Champion of the Year.”

Balsamini said he was “especially proud that the nominees I submitted on behalf of the SBDC at CSI were selected and honored.” He noted that Horowitz, “who, in his focus as chief business writer and columnist, dealt with small business and entrepreneurship, was very instrumental in getting word out about how valuable small businesses are to the community.”

Linda Baran, he said, had been an advocate for more than 900 small businesses, “working to create awareness in Washington, DC; New York State; and New York City of the needs of small business, and effecting change”…as evidenced by her participation in a recent press conference with him and Senator Chuck Schumer about small businesses’ need for access to capital.

The SBDC, promoted on the electronic sign outside the College, ads on the Staten Island ferry, and in public announcements on cable, benefits from positive word of mouth, especially from the people for whom the SBDC staff has helped secure seemingly impossible-to-get loans.

Balsamini noted “The work is especially gratifying when we can help people solve their problems and make their dreams come true.”