By Leigh Morris
For the Star-Gazette
What started as open discussion about developing the Beardstown business base two years ago is now a reality. The Beardstown Boost Small Business Incubator project has nurtured, advised and recently saw two small business open and more to follow.
A journey that began with hope two years ago nearly ended in tragedy on a Florida highway.
Having left Miami for Beardstown earlier that day, Lazaro Rodriguez and his wife, Alexa Canas, had reached Orlando when disaster struck. An automobile accident left Canas’ right arm severed while Rodriguez suffered a serious head injury.
“It’s a miracle we’re here,” said Canas as she stood with her husband in their new Beardstown shop, Alexa’s Boutique, 104 E. Fourth St. (www.-facebook.com/alexasjewe) Though surgeons reattached her arm, Canas was told she would never again have use of it. Following 17 surgeries and much therapy, she proved the experts wrong.
The Cuban-born couple made it to Beardstown and were able to fulfill their dream of opening the boutique with the help of the Beardstown Boost Small Business Incubator. The shop now offers affordably priced women’s clothes, shoes, jewelry and other items. Rodriguez said they will add men’s and children’s items in September.
Capps Media at 206 Washington St. is another incubator beneficiary. Headed by Steven Capps, the enterprise (www.-cappsmedia.com) is a digital service business that provides marketing solutions and produces digital-based media. Among services offered are website design and development, advertising design and logo creation.
Capps Media designed Beardstown Main Street’s new website (www.btms-.org), according to Dennis Reiley, executive director of Beardstown Main Street.
Launching a small business is challenging, but the U.S. Small Business Administration reports the failure rate is declining. One reason for improved small business success is the incubator concept. Two of the leading figures of the Beardstown initiative are Reiley and insurance professional J.J. DeSollar of the Beardstown Chamber of Commerce.
The incubator project got rolling with considerable assistance from Mimm Evans, executive director of Genoa (Ill.) Main Street.
“She gave Beardstown a blueprint on how to do it,” Reiley said, adding that “we also picked the brains of many people.”
The key to a successful incubator outcome is the Incubator Task Force. This volunteer team includes experts from the fields of finance and accounting, law, taxes, insurance, real estate, education and the media. Reiley said a key task force member is Sean Park of the Illinois Small Business Development Center of Western Illinois University.
Prospects, who primarily are recruited through local advertising, are assessed to determine if they are viable incubator candidates. Once approved, the entrepreneurs receive Task Force counseling and Bearsdtown Chamber member and incubator assistance designed to dramatically improve their chances for success. Assistance ranges from legal advice to help in securing loans.
The Beardstown initiative is somewhat unique in that it “has taken a hybrid approach,” DeSollar said. “Instead of housing new businesses in a (single) building, we assess a new business’ unique needs and then find them the right location.”
For those entrepreneurs that need space, the incubator negotiates a favorable 12-month lease and then subleases to the small business.
In addition to Alexa’s Boutique and Capps Media, the incubator also is providing assistance to Carrie Martin, owner of Moves Dance Company on Washington Street; Mindy Wyatt, who in September is opening a new restaurant in the space that has been occupied by the Riverview Restaurant on Main Street, and the Mile 88 on Second Street. And there are other projects in the works.
And what does Beardstown Main Street get out of this initiative?
“Satisfaction in helping people start businesses in Beardstown,” DeSollar said with a broad smile. “We do not charge for our services. We keep nothing on the rents we collect. That is a pass through.”
“We’re helping entrepreneurs realize their dreams and build a stronger Beardstown,” Reiley said.
Canas put it this way: “We came with nothing and now we have this. This is like a miracle from God.”