Pat Nye, director of the Los Angeles Regional Small Business Development Center Network, said he used to joke that the organization was a hidden gem. Then the pandemic hit. 
  
The number of clients the network serves nearly doubled in 2020, he said, from 7,000 to just under 14,000.
 
  
“We had people on the phones well into the evening and weekends,” Nye said. “It was really all hands on deck helping people navigate these emergency disaster resources.”
 
 
The L.A. SBDC Network is a federally, state and privately funded program offering free workshops and confidential one-on-one advising to small business owners and aspiring entrepreneurs. It’s one of 62 Small Business Development Center networks nationwide and one of six regional networks in California.
 
  
The L.A. SBDC Network is located at Long Beach City College. As the lead center for the region, it oversees eight local development centers throughout Los Angeles, Ventura and Santa Barbara counties.
 
  
When the pandemic hit, the L.A. SBDC Network started offering advice sessions on how to apply for the Paycheck Protection Program and Economic Injury Disaster Loans, as well as guidance on how to adapt to all of the changes caused by Covid-19.
“What we have found is that small businesses that used our services tend to do a lot better than those that didn’t in terms of successfully getting resources and funding,” Nye said.
 
  
The program’s regular workshops and trainings cover a variety of topics, including starting a small business and marketing. A new addition to the lineup includes how to pivot a business during the pandemic.
 
  
The workshops often act as “feeders” into the program’s one-on-one advising sessions where clients can get help from one of 200 specialist advisers, Nye said.
Anyone from a sole proprietorship to a firm with 500 employees can use services offered by the L.A. SBDC Network, Nye said. But many of the clients the program serves are restaurant owners, who have been among those hit hardest by shutdowns, he added.
 
  
Amid the pandemic, the L.A. SBDC Network also helped launch PPE Unite to give a free 30-day supply of personal protective equipment to small-business owners.  
 
 
The L.A. SBDC Network also offers Black Business Strategies, a 12-week program that provides business education, consulting and technical assistance to help “level the playing field” for Black business owners who are disproportionately affected by systemic obstacles like access to capital, Nye said.
 
  
Applications for the next Black Business Strategies cohort will begin this summer, he said. Businesses that apply must have already been in business for at least a year and a half, have at least two employees including the business owner, have more than $125,000 in annual revenue and must be able to stay in business for at least two years after the workshop.
 
  
Nye said the L.A. SBDC Network’s biggest measure of success is the value of loans and grants it helps small businesses access through its coaching and advising. The program’s annual goal is $178 million, which it more than doubled in 2020 at $378 million.
 
  
Colette Moore is the director of the Pacific Coast Regional Small Business Development Center, a Koreatown-based center in the L.A. SBDC network that quadrupled the number of clients it served last year, from 588 in 2019 to 2,267 in 2020. She said ultimately the center wants to help businesses thrive, but for now, getting by is good enough.
 
  
“At the SBDC, one of our taglines is ‘start, grow and succeed,’” Moore said. “We’ve been adding during the pandemic, ‘start, grow, survive and succeed.’ We’re trying to help people to survive.”
 

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