The Advocate

Older people. Customers. The Small Business Development Center. LSU.

Each of these is among the area’s most underutilized business resources, according to a panel of small business executives who spoke this week at the Baton Rouge Area Chamber’s monthly luncheon.

“Talking to old people … it just sparks that feeling, that sense of pride of what America was all about and should still be about,” said John Overton, owner and chief financial officer of Turnkey Solutions LLC, an information technology consulting firm. “There’s great wisdom there, and I think it also added to my repertoire of jokes.”

Monique Scott-Spaulding, authorized franchise owner of Jani King of Baton Rouge, said the Small Business Development Center has expertise from people who have already succeeded in building companies, and they’re willing to help.

Kevin Langley, president of G20 Young Entrepreneurs Alliance, a global network of about 500,000 entrepreneurs and supporting organizations, said the area should take better advantage of LSU.

The university has more than 30,000 students from the United States and abroad.

“What do they do when they graduate? They move somewhere else to take a job,” Langley said.

The result is that the area misses out on the business and job creation that result when students stay near the colleges where they graduate, he said.

Stafford Wood, owner of Covalent Logic, said her customers have been the best source of ideas and suggestions for expanding her business. “When you hear those things the right way from your customers, it can open up whole new product lines for you,” Wood said.

Louisiana Technology Park also proved to be a valuable asset, offering advice and expertise for her company.

About 90 people, roughly half of them women, attended the luncheon. The question-and-answer session covered topics such as the need for an advisory board and how to choose its members, raising money and hanging onto employees.

Wood said her advisory board challenged her ideas and offered expertise in areas such as taxes and financing that complemented her marketing skills. Overton said finding board members was as simple as building relationships with the people who attend events like Tuesday’s luncheon. Langley said one way to tell if a person would make a good advisory board member or mentor is by the quality of the communication. It’s important to find people willing to discuss the challenges their business faced or faces, rather than just saying everything is great.