Partner Spotlight – Small Business Development Center

CFI’s Marketing Outreach Coordinator, Hannah Olson sat down with the SBDC Grand Forks Director, Nicole Evans and asked her a series of questions relating to SBDC and the partnership between SBDC and CFI.

Who are you and what do you do for the Small Business Development Center?

“My name is Nicole Evans and I am the Grand Forks Center Director for SBDC. We provide no cost, confidential business advising services on any level of small business.”

Why did you find yourself at SBDC?

“I found myself here because my husband and I started an HVAC company back in 2012. We partnered it and eventually bought our partners out. We became sole owners in 2016. A lot of my past experience and knowledge, owning the HVAC company, and then expanding into a second business, is where my values and views came from. A lot of my past is what brought me here. It all fell in line with advising others. We focus on what we can do and build towards what we want to do.”

What are the biggest areas of partnership between SBDC and the Center for Innovation?

“There are a lot of programs that CFI provides that we do not. Our whole idea is not to duplicate our service or compete with one another, but to compliment each other. There are areas from the CFI side that I stepped away from. For example, I stepped away from the UAS side. I used to advise heavily with UAS, but I now instead send them to Renee Shelton at CFI when UAS is the topic. There are going to be things that they learn along the way that are not from me, but from other professionals.

We currently have a couple of clients that go back and forth between us and CFI. It is great that we are only a hallway apart, making it easy for clients to go back and forth. It makes it easier for the client to find what they are looking for.”

Besides the convenience factor, what do you think are other benefits of having SBDC in CFI?

“The accessibility is easy for our clients and the ability to get to know not just SBDC, but all of our partners inside and outside. Our inside partners are the Veterans Business Outreach Center, and SCORE because they are partners with the Small Business Administration. We also have outside partners, the Downtown Development Association, Economic Development Corporation, Center for Innovation, and Bank of North Dakota. There are a lot of partners in our ecosystem, so I try to go through each one. I hope that we are not our clients’ first stop or their last.”

What do you think are some of the unique value points that the Grand Forks ecosystem has?

“We have everything from personal experience, knowledge, and expertise in different fields. For me specifically, I am really strong in the manufacturing and contracting side. However, someone else might provide more expertise in health care or welding for example. There are different pockets that other people have expertise in that I necessarily would not. I think that is what is good about resource partners because each one of us is so unique that we have either experienced it, heard about it, dealt with it, but not every person.”

If you had to describe the Grand Forks entrepreneurial ecosystem in a few words, what words would you use?

“A system of expertise, knowledge, and a willingness to help. I think that describes the ecosystem pretty well. I think that everyone in the ecosystem is driven to help our entrepreneurs.”

Do you think there is a difference between the clients you work with versus the clients that we might be better suited for?

“Absolutely, the clients that would be on your side would be somebody looking heavy into UAS marketing or the innovation technology side. That is more where I see a lot of the clients for the CFI side.”

What do you think the importance is between partnerships like ours for Grand Forks entrepreneurs?

“The importance is the client getting a full 360 view of what it will be like being a business owner. You really have to know every aspect of your business. If you do not get the assistance from resources then a lot of the times I see those businesses having to go backwards before they go forwards. Businesses have all of these increments and I think that is what is good about the variety of resources.”