The goal? Help Iowa thrive

Kimberly Tiefenthaler leads NCI SBDC

-Messenger photo by Hans Madsen
Kimberly Tiefenthaler, regional director of the Small Business Development Center, shows some of the materials they have available to help people start a business or expand an existing one. When in Fort Dodge, she works out of the Iowa State University Extension and Outreach offices in the Crossroads Mall.

The overwhelming majority of businesses in the Hawkeye State are small business — those with fewer than 500 employees. According to Debi Durham, director of the Iowa Economic Development Authority, 97 percent of Iowa’s businesses fall into that category. Not only in Iowa, but also all across the United States small businesses are a vital part of our nation’s economy.

Since 1981, a network of Small Business Development Centers known as America’s SBDC has helped small businesses get started and learn how to thrive. America’s SBDC Iowa is our state’s participant in that nationwide program.

In this part of Iowa, a regional component of SBDC Iowa — North Central Iowa Small Development Center — has an office in Fort Dodge as part of the Iowa State University Extension complex at Crossroads Mall. The regional director is Kimberly Tiefenthaler. She serves clients in 12 counties.

An important part of the mission of NCI SBDC is helping entrepreneurs turn ideas for new businesses into operational realities. There is, however, more to the story.

“We have a very large role with entrepreneurs as far startup businesses,” Tiefenthaler said. “We also have a large focus on existing businesses. In our rural communities and in the region that I serve retaining businesses is important. There is a large focus on existing businesses — on retaining those businesses and retaining the employees that they have.”

Getting a new business launched can be an intimidating process for a potential owner. Making it less so is at the heart of the assistance NCI SBDC provides.

“The majority of people are somewhat aware of what they must do and overwhelmed by what is needed,” Tiefenthaler said. “That’s where we come in, taking away that feeling of being overwhelmed.”

The assistance available is tailored to each client’s situation.

“For a startup business, we help them develop a business plan, do the cash flow projections,” Tiefenthaler said. “Help them bring all the homework that they have done together and package it so they can go to a lender. There’s a lot of educating as well.”

The range of topics Tiefenthaler can help a client address is extensive.

“It’s anything that would be involved for starting a business,” she said. “Whether it would be licensing for their type of business. The pieces of a business plan. We look at certainly the financial pieces. Even their home budget would be covered because that does matter. Realistically, looking at what lenders expect of a small business.”

The services the SBDC provides are at no charge to clients. The program is funded through grants from the federal government, state government monies and assistance from a variety of local development entities around the state.

Tiefenthaler said people learn about the help the SBDC can give through a variety of sources, including the Internet.

“Economic developers and lenders are very good at referring people to us,” she said.

The counseling provided is customized to each client’s requirements.

“We do a lot of one-on-one counseling,” Tiefenthaler said. “That’s probably the best as far as drilling deeper on their specific type of business. The best thing I can do is have a one-on-one meeting to find out what their needs are specifically. I will travel to whatever county they are in or they are more than welcome to come to one of the offices.”

She stressed that having thought through a project carefully and having the information lenders will require in order are crucial to getting the funding necessary to start a business.

Tiefenthaler said the financing arrangements to make a new business possible are often among the biggest challenges that must be addressed.

“It just really takes money of their own or they have got to have somebody behind them with money,” she said noting that lenders typically won’t provide 100 percent of the needed funds.

Tiefenthaler’s message to would-be business owners, however, is upbeat and supportive.

“There are a lot of businesses that are very doable,” she said. “If it’s your dream, never say never. If now is not the right time, it could be the right time to tweak that business plan and make sure that things are in place so that when there is some money in your savings account the time will be right. Part of my job is to help them discover if that is the right way for them.”

Helping existing businesses

Getting new businesses started is a big component of the SBDC’s role, but helping those already underway stay viable is also part of its agenda.

“The health and well-being of our existing businesses is very important for the health of our communities,” Tiefenthaler said.

The SBDC can help business owners assess how well they are doing and evaluate the wisdom of expansion plans.

“We have software packages where we can benchmark their business against the industry averages,” Tiefenthaler said. “Give them a health checkup, so to speak. If they need to do some financial restructuring, we can help them walk through that process and get them prepared to go to the lender. If they want to do an expansion, they need to create a new business plan that is specific to that expansion and new projections for that. We can do that as well.”

Help with thinking through all aspects of ownership transitions is also part of the service the SBDC can provide. Whatever the situation, the expertise it can offer is readily available.

“It’s very nice to have someone who is completely outside of your normal circle of people who can be confidential, objective,” Tiefenthaler said. “So you can sit down and visit about all the angles of what’s going on with your business and know that everything stays here in this room.”

Meet the director

Tiefenthaler has been part of the local SBDC since March 2016 when she joined the staff as a business counselor. She became director in May 2017.

Her understanding of the challenges posed by starting and operating a small business is derived from real-world experience.

“My husband and I are the second-generation owners of the Performance Tire Service in Carroll,” Tiefenthaler said. “I worked there with my husband for 32 years.”

While still a co-owner of that enterprise, she is now devoting all her professional energies to the NCI SBDC.

Tiefenthaler said seeing people she helps succeed is immensely satisfying to her.

“When I go to an event some of my clients come and hug me because they are doing well. They tell me they are growing and have to add employees. That’s fun for me,” she said.