College of DuPage Small Business Development Center helps local businesses navigate during COVID-19 crisis

  • The Small Business Development Center at College of DuPage is working on creating a new education program that will focus on disaster proofing your business.

    The Small Business Development Center at College of DuPage is working on creating a new education program that will focus on disaster proofing your business. Courtesy of College of DuPage

Updated 5/27/2020 7:22 PM

The Illinois Small Business Development Center at College of DuPage is helping small business owners locate resources and take steps toward recovery after being impacted by COVID-19.

Business Development Center Program Manager Rita Haake said advisers have been working around the clock to help businesses create a plan to navigate these changes through their services.


"COVID-19 has forced us into uncertain times and what is now being called a 'new norm'," she said. "As expert advisers, we are here to offer our assistance and guide businesses within our community during this crisis and help them move forward."

The Illinois SBDC is part of a nationwide network of centers that promote entrepreneurship, small business growth and the U.S. economy through no-cost, confidential consulting for small and home-based businesses. Before the pandemic, the Illinois SBDC focused on helping new startups or existing businesses in the areas of management, marketing, finance and operations. Haake said in light of the pandemic, they have had to shift gears.

"We are now helping small business owners re-evaluate how they can change their services to maintain sales," she said. "We have been focused on helping our clients navigate economic relief packages, the payroll protection program, business loans, grants and how they can stay afloat during these uncertain times. With many businesses now in recovery mode, we are here to help."

With nonessential businesses closed in Illinois, the number of business owners who need help has skyrocketed, Haake said. In the month of April alone, the SBDC at COD offered more than 30 webinars and served hundreds of clients with more than 500 hours of free consultation.

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"We are busier than ever supporting small companies economically recover," she said. "And since so many businesses are looking to us as experts, as advisers, we have to be able to stay ahead of their questions. The last thing we want to do is add confusion to already stressed out business owners. We have to be credible and make sure we fully understand the COVID-19 resources so we can relay that information in a clear and concise way."

Due to the increase in clients looking for assistance, Haake and her staff turned their website into a hub of COVID-19 resources with tailored, easily digestible information related to small business owners.

"Small business owners are being inundated with information daily, so our goal is to be a trusted source that doesn't involve making people sift through the noise," Haake said. "Through a COVID-19 business newsletter and frequent website and social media posts, we are able to keep our clients informed on pertinent updates."

Collaboration between regional partners like the village of Glen Ellyn and Choose DuPage is critical during this time, said Joe Cassidy, COD's Assistant Vice President of Economic Development and Dean of Continuing Education and Public Services.


"Last year, COD and our economic partners formed Innovation DuPage, the regional business incubator and accelerator that now has more than 30 partner organizations and 50 member companies all focused on starting and growing the small businesses that will drive economic recovery," he said. "Through heightened collaboration and synergy with our partners, we will move from surviving to thriving in the months to come."

With COVID-19 affecting how many small businesses move forward, the SBDC is helping businesses move from crisis mode to recovery. Staff members are working on creating a new education program that will focus on disaster proofing your business, which will include how to formulate an effective emergency management plan.

"We recognized that many of these businesses created a model that was not disaster proof," Haake said. "Should this happen again, we want to help them get to a position where they can be resilient. We have to educate them on how to set up financials that ensures that they can access state and federal funding, how to create a hybrid work model that allows workers to stay at home and continue serving customers, the importance of an online presence, and, most importantly, how to create a disaster plan. We supply them with the steps, but how they choose to move forward is up to them."

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