2018-01-31 / Observer Business

The incubator

For more than a decade, BizWorks has helped businesses grow and flourish. And the nonprofit is just getting started

Tanner Collins, executive director of the BizWorks Enterprise Center, helps small businesses and startups get off the ground and running. 
ASH DANIEL Tanner Collins, executive director of the BizWorks Enterprise Center, helps small businesses and startups get off the ground and running. ASH DANIEL Since 2001, BizWorks Enterprise Center has been offering advice and assistance to startups in Chesterfield. Located at 2545 Bellwood Road, the center has helped more than 200 businesses with its incubation services, courses, counseling, workspaces and, soon, a “university” offering a wide array of business instruction.

BizWorks has helped companies in various industries, including trucking, construction, contracting and commercial cleaning, to get established and grow. The nonprofit’s location in the Jefferson Davis corridor is no accident. The business incubator has a mission to help small businesses and entrepreneurs shore up and improve their communities in Chesterfield and throughout the metro region. “We are located where help is needed,” says Tanner Collins, BizWorks’ executive director. Since 2001, BizWorks has helped facilitate the creation of about 220 full-time jobs, Collins says.

Since 2001, Tanner Collins says BizWorks has helped facilitate the creation of about 220 full-time jobs. 
ASH DANIEL Since 2001, Tanner Collins says BizWorks has helped facilitate the creation of about 220 full-time jobs. ASH DANIEL The center is largely funded through a Community Development Block Grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. BizWorks received an additional grant from HUD to finance a recent expansion effort: BizWorks University.

BizWorks’ board of directors comprises local business executives, lawyers, accountants and local, state and federal officials, including the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond.

Recently, the Observer spoke with Collins, who has a background in finance. He’s worked primarily as a commercial lender, including as senior vice president for REDC Community Capital Group Inc. and Consolidated Bank and Trust Co., and as vice president for SunTrust Bank. He holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in education from Virginia State University.

CO: What does BizWorks do?

Collins: We work in three areas. We look at people with ideas. We like to help those ideas germinate. The second group is microbusiness and helping them survive. That’s where all the jobs growth comes from and where all the jobs destruction comes from, too. It’s a spinning wheel and we’re trying to see what we can do to help. Finally, there are the small businesses and we try to help them grow. The way we do that that is we have created a program called BizWorks Business Builder. It looks at business basics, business planning and business assistance to really provide those resources. We have classes and seminars. We are starting BizWorks University. That’s going to be a combination of our classes and we’re also going to hold business planning and business model canvases, which is a way to look at a business and how [they] create, deliver and capture value. We’re going to set up some mastermind groups for experienced business owners. The idea is we want to understand how business owners learn and how they provide for themselves and what’s the best way we can deliver our resources for them. That could be classrooms or mentoring. We’re really excited about where we are and what we are doing with our businesses.

CO: What is a microbusiness?

Collins: One that has five employees or less. Usually, about three of them are related. First they start puttering around trying to figure it out. And then they get traction and they start to get some customers and they say, “This business is going to work.” So, this is where they start to make the moves to help them grow and ultimately survive. That is a very, very tender age. It’s like incubating eggs. The business is fragile and needs those resources.

CO: What are the biggest problems for a startup?

Collins: I’d say the biggest is a lack of knowledge. They don’t know what they don’t know. What happens is they do not realize that there are a lot of resources all over the county and the region that are available to them. There is a tendency for entrepreneurs to go it alone. That’s their nature. They are trailblazers and they try to use their energy and guts. “Failure is not an option,” kind of a thing. They find they are not able to make the money, to keep the traction going. A recent article said that 40 percent of businesses, when they start out, never reach traction. They don’t generate enough revenue to make it work. Look at statistics from the Department of Commerce. Eighty percent of businesses fail in the first five years. Of the survivors, 80 percent of those fail in the next five. So, only about 4 percent of businesses ever really make it to 11 years. We at BizWorks want to change who’s in that statistic. We believe there are great business ideas and business people here in the Chesterfield area.

CO: Who are some of the successful businesses that you’ve helped nurture?

Collins: Right now in our incubator we have 13 businesses. We’ve got several really good businesses. One is called The Village Children and Family Services. They provide intensive, in-home counseling. They have about 30 counselors that work in people’s homes. They’ve been in business about seven years. They’ve opened up a new location in Lynchburg as well. Another is Office Pride. They are a commercial cleaning business and they have about 40 people with them. Their largest contract is with Norfolk Naval Base. The owner is a veteran. We have a new member called Workspace 101. They are a furniture dealer with several large customers here in the area.

CO: Anything else?

Collins: The big thing that we’re doing is looking for folks, experienced business people, who are interested in becoming mentors, facilitators or coaches and help us in our BizWorks University. We are going to be looking for folks who want to learn how to start a business the right way. ¦

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