Local Businesses Find Success with Helping Hand

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COLUMBIA - Starting a business in today's economy can be, well...risky. That is why local business owners who have recognized this are turning to get some additional help in making their businesses successful so they don't have to face the dreaded "c" word - closure.

Former Mizzou football player Lorenzo Williams co-founded The Galactic Fun Zone with his teammate Montee Wyrick back in August of last year.

"I wanted to do a complete family fun center," Williams said. "Pretty much so it would be like: laser tag, an arcade, a 12-lane bowling alley, mini golf, go karts, and bumper boats."

In order to make that dream turn into a reality, the entrepreneurs sought out help from the Small Business and Technology Development Center in Columbia. It was later estimated that dream would come with an expensive price tag- $6 million.

"I think our role is basically that as a mentor and doing a lot of follow up, providing assistance in any area that they're needing help in," the Small Business and Technology Development Center Director, Virginia Wilson, said.

Wilson has worked with Williams and Wyrick ever since they first came to her with the idea. She has helped them revamp their business models time after time. Miraculously, a bank finally decided to give them the loan they needed.

"Virginia would laugh because she would give us this project, we'd take it home, work all night on it, call her the next morning and be like, ‘hey, can your check your e-mail? Call me back later, I'm going to sleep. Tell me what you think.' We'd just be up all night," Williams said in describing his experience with working on the business model.

According to the Small Business Development Center, it is not common for banks to give large loans without a solid business plan. Even then, the two business partners made visits to well over a dozen banks before one finally believed in them.

The Center works with nearly 2,400 clients. Wilson said nearly 70 percent of all its clients are still in business after five years from the time they opened their doors. She also mentioned that between 25 to 50 percent of small businesses fail within their first year.

Back in 2008, during the widespread impact of the financial crisis that hit, 595,600 small businesses closed and 43,546 went bankrupt. Small businesses wanting to stay afloat needed to make some swift changes.

That's exactly what New York Deli owner, Micki Marrero, did.

"I decided to go into catering, and that was back in 2007," Marrero said in describing how she had to flex her business muscles in order to meet the market demand. "Again, I used the services of the Small Business Development Center."

The deli opened in 2005, and has undergone a few changes in order to maintain its current success. Aside from opening up a catering business tagged onto the deli, Marrero also expanded the shop to make room for additional seating.

"I see what's going on out there, I see the needs, and I just get creative on things," Marrero said. "I change things around."

The deli isn't the only business with dreams of expanding. Williams and Wyrick plan on adding more amenities to the Galactic Fun Zone by June. So despite the struggles many have in order to recover from the aftershocks of the recent economic downturn, others with big dreams are turning them into small businesses.