Marin Small Business Development Center intern and MBA candidate Riley Friauf, left, works with Miriam Hope Karell, director of the Marin Small Business Development Center, located on the campus of Dominican University. (David Albee photo)
Marin County Small Business Help Center Responds to Flood of Pandemic Calls for Help

When the state entered a pandemic lockdown in March 2020, the head of the Marin Small Business Development Center expected the phone lines to go silent.

She was in great surprise.

“In the first two weeks of shelter-in-place, we’ve missed 450 calls,” said Miriam Hope Karell, director of the Marin SBDC, which is located at the Barowsky School of Business on the University’s San Rafael campus. Dominican from California. The Marin SBDC and all Small Business Development Centers nationwide are part of the US Small Business Administration. The Marin Center has been under the tutelage of the university since moving to campus in 2017.

“We’ve never had this level of connection with people before. … I always wanted us to be more essential to Marin, but we were kind of left out,” Karell said. “And then all of a sudden we’re supporting everybody at the county level, at the city level — everybody.”

Over the next year and a half, Karell and his team of advisors provided over 8,250 hours of one-on-one support to over 1,700 clients. For perspective, the center between 2013 and 2018 provided 8,800 hours of individual support, helping between 300 and 350 clients each of those five years.

This pandemic aid consisted of providing assistance in a number of ways, including but not limited to pivotal strategies such as moving physical stores to online-only sales, assisting with marketing efforts and raising awareness. social media, and lease negotiations, said Karell, who has led the association since 2013.

But the most vital service provided by Marin SBDC has been helping guide small business owners through the process of applying for pandemic financing, like SBA-backed Paycheck Protection Program loans.

The organization also held 100 workshops on Zoom, hosting more than 2,250 attendees on a number of issues, with marketing being one of the hottest topics, according to Karell.

Throughout the period from March 2020 to September 2021, the Marin SBDC helped business owners secure $67 million in funding and increase sales by more than $22 million, she said. declared.

Of the hundreds of companies the Marin SBDC has helped, some have had to change business models to survive, Karell said.

“I know of a kombucha company that, instead of selling their kombucha in a keg, had to bottle everything individually,” she said, explaining that because of COVID-19, people couldn’t share at from a barrel. “They had to change their whole business model in terms of what they were distributing and learning how to bottle.”

Karell noted that the company has not completely abandoned selling by the barrel. On the contrary, it is now a small part of the business, which may change over time.

The Marin SBDC has also helped a number of new and start-up businesses get loans, which isn’t easy to do in normal times, she said.

As one of 16 such centers in Northern California, the Marin SBDC strives for an annual budget of $400,000, Karell said. Funding comes from several sources, including the SBA, some state funding through the Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development, known as GO-Biz; and about a third through the organization’s fundraising efforts.

Yung-Jae Lee, dean of the Barowsky School of Business, said there are many benefits to having the Marin SBDC on campus, including allowing business students to work with local entrepreneurs and organizations. . In turn, the staff of the body participates in teaching the students.

Cheryl Sarfaty covers tourism, hospitality, healthcare and education. She previously worked for a Gannett daily in New Jersey and for NJBIZ, the state’s business newspaper. Cheryl has freelanced for business journals in Sacramento, Silicon Valley, San Francisco and Lehigh Valley, PA. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from California State University, Northridge. Reach her at or 707-521-4259.


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