Building Small Business in the Hub City

Building Small Business in the Hub City

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Kelly Weaver stands out as a respected leader in the Hub City small business community.

A budding small business idea needs detail-oriented care to grow into a full-blown start-up. Kelly Weaver nurtures those ideas and fights for small business owners.

Whether she’s working at the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) or on her own time, she’s supporting local entrepreneurship.

“That’s the foundation of our state, that’s the foundation of rural economic development,” Kelly says.

She problem solves with start-up owners, inspires students through BIG Idea, and writes for the Chamber’s Progress. Kelly also helped create and staff SCORE, a program to support business owners.

Kelly not only helps in Aberdeen but takes her service on the road as a figure in statewide business. Not a small business owner? You’ll still spot Kelly around town or catching drifts on her snowmobile with the Aberdeen Driftbusters Club.

Small Business is Great

Kelly inspires the next generation of entrepreneurs as coordinator for BIG Idea.

BIG Idea is a fall statewide competition that teaches more than 300 high schoolers how to create a small business plan, design a marketing strategy, and present those ideas to officials.

The “BIG” stands for “Business Is Great,” exactly what Kelly and the team want contestants to think.

In 2007, Pat Gallagher and Paul McDonald hatched the idea, and Kelly volunteered to take charge. She organized a committee and has spent the last 13 years growing the program statewide.

If BIG Idea were an engine, Kelly would be the “spark plug,” a piece vital to the machine running smoothly, Paul says.

Kelly regularly mentors an SBDC intern, usually from her alma mater NSU, who helps plan BIG Idea. Together they host meetings, recruit judges, and organize the final event.

Kelly says BIG Idea gets kids thinking about how to solve problems in their community.

Paige Evans, a second place BIG Idea winner, noticed middle and elementary schoolers had trouble getting around town. She thought, ‘What if high school students helped out by driving them home or to the library for tutoring?’

The idea would solve a problem and help busy parents. So, she wrote “Smart Rides,” her runner-up plan for the competition.

Creativity like this shows the competition really inspires students to fill local needs. In the future, Kelly hopes the online format could bring the competition beyond South Dakota.

Keen Advice

Starting a new business can be scary. Kelly makes people feel comfortable so they feel invited to become owners.

The encouragement is huge in a region that depends on entrepreneurs.

“We get to be just the coaches and the cheerleaders,” Kelly says.

As Regional Director of the SBDC, Kelly lends advice, resources, and warnings to start-ups and small businesses.

Kelly asks red-flag questions, so clients can be realistic about how their start-up will do and set goals to improve.

“It’s our job to make sure they’re as prepared as possible,” Kelly says.

Gail Ochs, Chamber President, highlighted Kelly’s 2012 Woman of Spirit Award, saying it shows the wisdom, integrity, and inspiration she’s lent to businesses all over.

The economic challenges of COVID-19 mean Kelly’s most often been helping owners apply to new grants and loans.

“She’s a strong advocate for businesses, entrepreneurs, and students,” Kae McNeil, a fellow Chamber committee member, says.

Stepping in to Help

Kelly jumps to the rescue in any way she can when a start-up client walks through her office door.

Susan Evans had been in healthcare for 30 years when she noticed clients having a hard time organizing their nebulizer treatments.

The home health nurse had a solution: NebTray.

It’s a labeled organizer for vials, so patients can manage treatments throughout the week.

Many people look to start a small business because they know their skill well, like Susan. But she struggled to keep up with business details.

Her first prototype was a shoebox lid with holes. Susan needed help with business projections and marketing. It was time to call Kelly.

“Literally everything that’s happened in terms of starting my start-up has happened because of Kelly Weaver,” Susan says.

Kelly’s business support always puts Susan’s wellbeing first. Kelly assembled a dedicated team and showed Susan some realistic needs and challenges for her business. Then, the time came to get Susan’s idea out there in a business competition.

But a spring snowstorm hit the day of the annual Governor’s Giant Vision Business Plan Competition in Sioux Falls, and the day of business pitches, including NebTray’s, was canceled.

When Susan couldn’t reschedule an in-person presentation, Kelly pulled out all the stops to ensure she could still participate. She arranged professional McQuillen Creative Group videography at the Workshop for a video submission. Seated in a row, the four mock panelists questioned Susan about NebTray.

NebTray won third place, a big step for the startup.

Looking forward, Susan will redesign NebTray and wait for rescheduled respiratory conferences.

Behind the Numbers

Aside from client meetings, Kelly gives seminars and workshops about hot topics in business. In mid-July, she showed 50 clients, bankers, and resource providers how to calculate their break-even point in an hour-long Understanding Financial Statements webinar.

“What’s also so great about Kelly is the workshops and trainings she puts on,” Gail says. “I think they just go above and beyond to meet the needs of the local community.”

For growing businesses, Kelly focuses on their needs, decodes business projections, and composes a break-even analysis. When the numbers seem incomprehensive, Kelly breaks it down into cups of coffee or cars fixed in a week to show owners just what their business might look like.

Where some might see jumbled ones and zeros in a financial plan, Kelly interprets trends signaling stability or profitability.

“She’s an extraordinary leader in communication and the management of details,” Paul says.

Kelly ’s community-oriented leadership has grown Aberdeen businesses for more than 20 years, and her creative problem solving will support them for years to come. // –Jeni Fjelstad

Kelly’s Small Business Tips:

BE BRAVE: “You don’t have to wait for permission. If you want to start a business, start a business.”

FILL A NEED: “Entrepreneurship doesn’t have to be some big new invention to be successful. All you need to do is fill a need.”

SAY YES: “People need to take those steps and have faith in their knowledge and their research.”

CONSIDER TIMING: “Sometimes the timing isn’t right, whether that’s a market circumstance or a personal circumstance, and that’s okay.”