ISBDC staff (left) Terri Brown, (rear) Paul Simacek, and (sitting) Heather Penney. Photo by Lynae Sowinski

Many Bloomingtonians were startled in early 2010 by news of plans to eliminate the local branch of the Indiana Small Business Development Center (ISBDC), an independent, nonprofit source of free guidance to businesses since 1985. So it may come as a surprise to learn that, in fact, the office did not close.

The difference is that now the local office is part of the state’s west-central region based in Terre Haute. Today the Bloomington branch of ISBDC, located in the Showers Building, serves an area encompassing Monroe, Jackson, Brown, and Owen counties. Although Regional Director Heather Penney splits her time between Bloomington and Terre Haute, full-time staff here includes Business Advisor Paul Simacek and Community Development Coordinator Terri Brown.

The ISBDC offers advice, training, and consultation services to new and established small businesses, roughly defined as privately owned and operated with fewer than 500 employees. Many of ISBDC’s client companies have fewer than 100 employees, some only one or two. New entrepreneurs can get workshop training and consultation on virtually any aspect of running a business, and even long-established companies can get help.

Advisors are well qualified, with either an MBA or more than 20 years of experience in their field of concentration, and they are required to obtain at least 40 hours of further professional development annually. While both Penney and Simacek do general business advising, each has special areas of expertise: Penney’s are marketing, management, and operations; Simacek’s are strategy, finance, and operations.

Simacek’s background and credentials suggest the caliber of counsel available, free of charge, to ISBDC clients. He majored in business economics and public policy at IU and traveled during school breaks through Europe and Asia. “I wanted to get a different perspective on how people live,” he says, noting that local customs and institutions have distinct effects on ways of doing business. He went on to earn an MBA from the University of Oxford, drawn by the university’s internationally respected Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship.

Says Penney, “The west-central center very much looks forward to ingraining the Bloomington office and its primary staff of Terri Brown and Paul Simacek into the business community and wants local businesses to use the ISBDC as a business resource.”

The center is open 8 am to 5 pm Monday through Friday. Appointments can be made by e-mail ([email protected]) or by telephone (334-4070).