Small biz: Retirees, upstarts matched at business fair

Bill Boothby has been retired for seven years from a career that included starting two businesses – one in the 1970s and one in the 1990s – that he built up and sold. In between, he served as director of international business development for Ball Corp. Now he volunteers helping others launch their business dreams.

“I’m kind of unusual in that I have small-business experience. I know what it means to have to make a payroll and not have any money,” says Boothby, 66. “And on the other hand, I’ve also done large corporate work.”

Boothby was explaining this in the context of his involvement with SCORE, the Service Corp. of Retired Executives, a resource partner of the Small Business Administration made up of volunteers who counsel startup business owners and those who have never been in business but want to be.

“It’s fun, and it’s great to be part of someone else’s dream,” he says.

Of course, a recession like this has not been seen in decades – the national 9.5 percent unemployment rate is the highest in 26 years – so lately many of the people Boothby sees are not so much pursuing a dream as they are trying to shake a nightmare – of unemployment, financial woes, career uncertainty.

“We see so many people who for years have run good businesses, and they’re good businesspeople who are in trouble because their customers have just absolutely disappeared,” Boothby says. “It really shakes them right down to their core because they begin to question who they are and where they’re going in life.”

About 400 seeking guidance found their way to the Lowry Conference Center in mid-July for CBS4 News’ “Beating the Recession Small Business Fair,” which offered workshops on securing capital, consultations with lenders, and one-on-one sessions with counselors like Boothby, who finished a two-year term as president of SCORE’s Denver chapter in 2008.

I asked Boothby about some of his clients’ ventures, and he led me to the Lowry Conference Center kitchen to show me a countertop full of gourmet cupcakes with elaborate swirls of coconut, chocolate, strawberries and cream, and vanilla icing. They are the handiwork of one of his former clients, Porche Lovely.

Lovely was a project manager for Sun Microsystems

before being laid off in 2004. She went through the Johnson & Wales University baking and pastry program and out of that created a business plan, but it sat dormant for about a year. Then she came to Boothby for help in 2007.

“We spent a good couple of months working on my business plan, refining it,” says Lovely, 35. “I met with him every week, and he’d give me sections to review and revise.”

Lovely got funding, found a location on Steele Street and East Colfax Avenue and bought a special oven that took seven weeks to arrive and cost $12,000 – “the most expensive thing I’ve ever purchased in my entire life besides real estate,” she says.

In February 2008 “Lovely Confections,” a cupcake and special-order cake shop, opened for business.

Lovely Confections didn’t have the Colfax cupcake market cornered for long. That same week, another cupcake enterprise, The Shoppe, opened a block away. Unbelievable. Cupcake competitors within shouting distance of each other.

But there’s been at least one plus: free publicity. “We had a story in The Denver Post last year on the two of us,” she says. “They say there’s no such thing as bad PR.”

There is, however, such a thing as 15-hour workdays for Lovely, who says she likes what she does now. But asked if she likes it better than being a project manager at Sun Microsystems she responds, “Being an entrepreneur, I think, is really romanticized.”

Her only employee is an intern who recently came out of the Johnson & Wales program. To save money, Lovely lives in her brother’s basement.
She recalls a friend telling her recently, “At least you don’t have your old company telling you what to do.” To which Lovely said, “No, I just have my employees and my customers and my suppliers and …” she pauses. “Theoretically, I’m in charge.”

Greg Lopez, director of the SBA’s Colorado district, says it’s important for businesses “to know that we have a vested interest in their success, regardless of where they are.” Or what size they are.

“Small business is the backbone of our economy,” Lopez says, “and if they don’t succeed, we as a country are not going to succeed.”
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