Springfield center brings small biz owners together to share, learn

Springfield’s Small Business Development Council hopes to expand a program designed to allow business owners to periodically network and share resources.

“Picture a group of between six and eight small business owners who get together every week or every two weeks and talk about what their challenges and goals are for the week,” said Rob Alexander, executive director of the SBDC.

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The program is called Masterminds. In most meetings, one of the business owners is on the “hot seat” allowing time to talk about any topic and solicit advice and thoughts from other business owners.

The meetings and their direction is driven by the business owners, not the SBDC, Alexander said. The idea is to give local businesses an outlet they might not otherwise have to discuss the positive side and the challenges of their work, he said.

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Masterminds groups initially became popular in other cities, he said, but have spread as businesses have seen their value.

“Owning a business honestly can be quite isolating,” Alexander said. “Who do you talk to when you’re worried about your business? You can’t talk to your employees about that. It’s a chance to drop your guard and be real with other people who understand those same issues.”

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The program started with one group that’s been active for a couple of months. But it’s fared well enough the SBDC now wants to expand the program. Ideally the groups would be organized by local business owners rather than the SBDC, Alexander said, which would act more as a facilitator.

“I’d love to have a dozen groups going in Springfield,” he said. “They can organize around themes or they can be kind of a hodgepodge mix of entrepreneurs.”

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Dana Akers, co-owner of Launch Runner, has been part of the initial group. The company started in 2010 and has offices in Springfield and Minneapolis, specializing in digital marketing and web development for small businesses. Members of the group keep the discussions confidential, he said, and the talk goes beyond just networking, allowing local business owners to share advice and bounce ideas off each other.

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“We want these to grow organically,” Alexander said. “We don’t want to play a heavy hand in putting these things together. We want people who are motivated to start them to simply have a platform. We’ll give them a few tools and some advice but these things will be self-managed for the most part. They’ll have a space they can use here at the SBDC if they want to.”

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