Maura Shenker is the director of Temple University’s Small Business Development Center (SBDC). Maura is a creative thinker, serial entrepreneur, coach and consultant who brings a wealth of professional experience and entrepreneurial excellence to her role in directing Temple’s SBDC. Before joining Temple University, Maura served as director of Saint Joseph’s University’s Centers for Professional Development and Food Marketing.
How did your experience as a serial entrepreneur and consultant prepare you for your role as director of the SBDC?
I treat the SBDC as a small business where I need to be responsive to the marketplace, putting the small businesses we serve first, and always looking for ways that we can be better for them. I’m constantly looking for ways to go above and beyond other technical assistance providers in the region.
I try to think like an entrepreneur, as I did when I was a business owner. We’re always looking for new programs to offer, ways to be more sustainable and more helpful to our community. I have a lot of empathy for small business owners and the problems they face, having been a small business owner myself. I’ve been in their shoes, and I understand the isolation and emotional components that can come from being a business owner that can’t be taught in the classroom.
How long have you served as director of the Temple SBDC, and how has the organization and your role changed since the pandemic began?
I’ve been at Temple since June of 2018. The pandemic has definitely changed everything. We saw a major increase in the number of people reaching out to us for help. We’ve used this time to redesign our programs and we did an all hands on deck approach to communication right away. For several months, we started offering daily open office hours on Zoom. Anybody could hop on the SBDC Zoom link and there was a consultant who could answer their questions.
We started focusing a lot on business resilience, cash flow and access to credit. There were a lot of shared problems among many different businesses that we were working on. Usually each client that approaches us has pretty unique issues, but since the pandemic began we’ve been seeing a lot of common threads mostly about cash flow and lending, especially government programs. We helped a lot of people get Economic Injury Disaster (EIDL) loans and Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans.
How do you feel COVID-19 impacts the role of Temple’s Small Business Development Center?
COVID-19 has made the role of the SBDC more critical than ever. I’m grateful that we have the opportunity to serve the small businesses in the region and help support communities. I think that small businesses are the backbone of our neighborhoods and commercial corridors. The Temple SBDC has been an incredibly important tool for small business owners to stay afloat and get access to information.There was a lot of information going around about accessing capital and government programs, but because we are funded by the SBA and the Department of Community and Economic Development, we get our information directly from them. So we have been able to act as a conduit for disseminating accurate and timely.
How does your work with partner organizations enable the Temple SBDC to help provide further assistance to local entrepreneurs?
So many of our clients find out about us from our partner organizations. We use our resources to help clients, rather than to market ourselves. We rely on word of mouth from our clients, and we rely on our partners, especially government officials. When people contact the Small Business Administration for help, the SBA will often refer them to the SBDC. The DCED will also send clients to us. The city government commerce department and banks will refer people to the SBDC. We rely on our strong partnerships to connect us with businesses that we can help. We have a very strong referral network and partnership with chambers of commerce and traditional banks and non-traditional lenders. A lot of the groups that small businesses look to for help or can help entrepreneurs, we work with. We also often refer our clients to our partners, such as lenders who we might refer people to on a consistent basis. We work with more than a thousand small businesses a year, so we touch a lot of lives.
What aspect of your work do you think makes the biggest impact, and what are you most proud of?
As director or the Temple SBDC, I think I make the biggest impact by setting the strategic direction. I’m responsible for keeping an eye on the ecosystem, the entrepreneurial landscape, creating partnerships, and driving the different types of programs. It’s my responsibility to make sure the Temple SBDC is able to align its offerings with the needs of entrepreneurs and the local community. My job is to make sure that our consultants who are working hard to help clients every week have the resources, training, and support they need to do their jobs. I support our consultants by planning for the future to be able to ensure they have access to the most up to date tools and information. I’m most proud of the incredible team I have been able to build since I began my role as director. When I got to the SBDC, there were 3 employees, and 3 part-time independent contractors. We didn’t have a full-time consultant model. I changed the business model for the SBDC and hired a great team of consultants and support staff, and it wasn’t a moment too soon. I’ve hired 9 people so far. We’ve grown tremendously and in a very short period of time. We’ve significantly increased our impact in the region.
Do you have any advice for aspiring entrepreneurs?
It’s hard, so hard. You need to have a very clear definition of what success means to you. Some people look for money. Some people look for freedom. Some people look to make a difference in their community. People start entrepreneurial enterprises for different reasons, and it’s very important to remember why you start this journey. If you start an idea or a service with the purpose of giving back to your community and making the world a better place, then focus on that. You might get a lot of people coming in to tell you how to improve profitability and grow your business, but that might not further your goal of making the world a better place. If you start a business as a consultant so that you can make your own hours and work from anywhere and travel the world, then that is a fine goal to accept. The traditional view of success in business of how fast can you grow your revenue, how many clients can you get in a span of time, are fine goals, but they’re not the only goals. I think one of the best aspects of being an entrepreneur is not only do you get to see your idea come to life and be in control of your vision, but you also get to define what success means to you. I think that’s a big part of what makes entrepreneurship so attractive to younger generations. The future of work is changing, so why wouldn’t the definition of success change too? The days of graduating from college and going to a company to work your way up from the mailroom up to partner decades later before you retire from the same company are over. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to have that kind of professional experience, but today’s field of work is more like parkour. There isn’t the same kind of straight path to follow that there might have been decades ago. My advice is to really focus on what success means to you, so when you come to forks in the road, you’re really able to make decisions that help you achieve your goals and the kind of life you want to live
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