The restrictions that have accompanied the spread of the coronavirus pandemic have heaped a double dose of anxiety on many of Nebraska’s small business owners. Federal programs designed to offer help are constantly evolving. The applications are complicated and confusing. The money is here one day and gone the next.
“Our state’s small business owners are worried about losing their life’s work and putting their employees out on the street,” says Catherine Lang, Nebraska Business Development Center (NBDC) state director. “These business owners need guidance to navigate the myriad of evolving, often complex government programs. That is why the NBDC has stepped up on their behalf.”
Tony Schultz, Omaha Center Director of America’s SBDC-Nebraska, based at the NBDC in Omaha, is leading a team of College of Business Administration (CBA) graduate assistants who serve as NBDC business consultants. These grad students work with business owners who contact the NBDC by phone or through the center’s website in search of assistance and other resources.
The NBDC has established an online source, NBDC Business Resiliency Resources, on its website (www.unomaha.edu/nebraska-business-development-center/) for information on federal and state funding programs such as the CARES Act designed to support small businesses and other eligible organizations during the current pandemic. NBDC’s graduate assistants respond to businesses that want more help and provide one-on-one, confidential consulting via email, phone or videoconferencing.
“Some of these programs change on an almost daily basis, and that is tough for a business owner to keep up with when they are also struggling to stay afloat,” Schultz says. “We establish a connection with these businesses, helping them today and as issues arise in the future.”
Tam Dam is a 2018 UNO graduate and native of Vietnam who is working on her Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree with concentrations in risk management, business analytics and health care administration. Since mid-March, she and other NBDC graduate assistants have been responding to small businesses requesting help regarding the pandemic assistance programs.
“We received team and individual training at the start, and have continued our training throughout,” Dam says. “The programs and the availability of funding keep changing, so we have to keep up to date.”
She has been advising a variety of Nebraska businesses, including construction companies, rental property managers and health clinics. “They are stressing out, and that’s understandable,” she says. “We try to be patient with them and do our best to help with the application processes. We calm them down and direct them to the places and programs that can make a difference.”
Oluwaseun Olaore is from Nigeria and is working toward his MBA in economics, business economics and data analytics. As a NBDC graduate assistant and business consultant, “I help my clients by listening, creating strategic and tactical ideas, and walking them through solutions to their technical and financial problems.”
He says the current pandemic has created a volatile, challenging situation for most small businesses. “During these trying times, I encourage my clients by having a phone or video conference with me, and in most cases with my team director, Tony Schultz,” Olaore says. “Together, we take them through the process of applying for opportunities under the CAREs Act programs, and help them plan a strategy for the post-COVID19 period.”
NBDC graduate assistant and business consultant Kylee Nielsen is originally from Lincoln, Neb. She attended a virtual graduation ceremony in May to accept her MBA, then is going on to take the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) exams. She, too, has been working with a wide array of small businesses seeking information regarding the available pandemic assistance programs.
“I walk them through the application forms just to help relieve some of the intense pressure they are feeling,” Nielsen says. “I also assure them that our relationship is not a one-and-done kind of thing. We want to continue working with them and keep them aware of the changing relief programs.”
Nielsen says this has been a learning experience for her as well as the businesses she serves. “I have seen the importance of working together and building a team,” she says. “There isn’t one person who hasn’t felt the stress of what is happening in our country and the world. I am offering these businesses advice, but I am also giving them a sense of hope in such a difficult time.”