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Columbia entrepreneurs making a mark on the business landscape

Monday, December 3, 2007 | 11:16 p.m. CST; updated 7:58 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008
Jina Yoo, right, visits with lunch time customers Abby Tuttle, left, and Ann Poehling on Nov. 13. Yoo opened Jina Yoo's Asian Bistro on Forum Boulevard in July.

COLUMBIA — Small business ownership and entrepreneurship are on the rise — with the figures to back it up.

The number of small businesses in Missouri has increased from 128,300 in 2003 to 135,700 in 2006, a nearly 6 percent increase in three years, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration. Self-employment also rose from 213,588 to 301,700 — a 41 percent increase.

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Of the Columbia Chamber of Commerce’s 1,700 members, 80 percent are smaller businesses, said Andrea Jira, the Chamber’s membership director.

“Overall entrepreneurship is a topic of interest in the general population,” said Mary Paulsell, director of the University Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, which offers expertise on how to start, grow or re-position a business.

The center, funded primarily by the U.S. Small Business Administration and MU, consults with about 300 clients a year and trains 1,200 through the courses it offers. About half of the center’s clients are in business, Paulsell said. The remainder are in the process of starting their own enterprise, and 35 percent of those actually open their own business.

“The emphasis on entrepreneurship at both the local and state level is significantly higher today than 10 years ago,” said Ken Schneeberger, an agricultural economics professor and co-instructor of an entrepreneurship course. “There was minimal interest in entrepreneurship at the campus level as recently as 2000, in spite of the Internet and biotech boom that was happening on the East and West coasts. We are at least 10 years behind much of the rest of the country, but the good news is we are catching up.”

The course Schneeberger instructs introduces students to entrepreneurial ways of thinking while encouraging them to incorporate it into decision-making processes.

Although both small and large businesses have their advantages, small businesses in the local community often stay in the area long-term, Paulsell said.

“Entrepreneurs typically put roots down in a place they like and want to call home and are less likely to pick up and move,” she said. “They also have a vested interest in the community and a strong desire to give back.”

Paulsell sees the growth of entrepreneurship in four categories: Generation Y, women, immigrants and baby boomers, with some entrepreneurs falling into more than one. She said Generation Y is characterized by having the ability to multi-task — they can text, surf the Internet, watch TV and listen to an ipod at the same time.

“They can keep a lot of balls in the air at one time,” Paulsell said. “Because entrepreneurship typically requires individuals to perform a variety of tasks, it often appeals to this generation.”

Women who pursue entrepreneurship are often successful executives from large companies with a desire to start their own business, Paulsell said.

Of U.S. businesses opening in the past year, 47 to 48 percent were started by women or men/women combinations with women owning more than 51 percent of the company, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration.

Immigrants who are entrepreneurs are often affiliated with university and high-technology settings, Paulsell said. At times they find it more difficult to enter into a company despite having the knowledge and resources, so they decide to start their own businesses.

Baby boomers are those reaching retirement age who find they are interested in pursuing a few more years as a professional with the wealth, experience and energy to pursue a new endeavor, Paulsell said. They often start a business based on something they’ve always wanted to do.

Here are the stories of three people who used resources through the University Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship to help them become small business owners in Columbia — all within the past year.

Jina Yoo

Jina Yoo’s Asian Bistro

After 11 years as a stay-at-home mom and a year of planning, Jina Yoo decided to share her passion for Korean cuisine.

“I wasn’t getting any younger,” Yoo said. “I wanted to find something for me, something I loved to do.”

Jina Yoo’s Asian Bistro on Forum Boulevard opened just three months ago.

“It seems like three years already,” Yoo said.

Since opening her restaurant, a typical day for Yoo lasts 18 to 19 hours, which is common of many small-business owners. That doesn’t seem to bother her because she loves serving others.

During her time as a stay-at-home mom, Yoo taught home-based cooking classes and offered private part-time residential caring services. Entering into a service-providing industry seemed a natural fit for Yoo.

The first step Yoo took before opening her business was visiting the University Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, where she wrote the business plan for Jina Yoo’s Asian Bistro.

“Sometimes they check on us to see how things are going,” Yoo said.

Yoo, originally from South Korea, moved to the U.S. in 1993. She learned traditional Korean culinary from her grandmother and began cooking for her large extended family as a young girl.

She moved to Columbia in 1995 when her husband was accepted into a master’s program at MU and began sharing her enthusiasm for Asian cooking by welcoming guests to her personal cooking classes. Not long after beginning the classes, she began receiving requests to cater to private homes and mastered her technique of preparing intriguing menus.

“I started the restaurant because I loved providing the services of serving and feeding people,” Yoo said.

The biggest challenge for Yoo in the last three months has been staffing the restaurant. She has 27 employees that put her managerial skills to the test.

“I have to keep their interests in mind while continuing to run the business,” Yoo said.

Yoo has realized that a small business owner needs to have a large skill set.

“Running a restaurant is more than it appears,” Yoo said. “You have to know a lot of things, especially about management and finance.”

Before opening her restaurant, Yoo never worked directly for anyone, but she wishes she had had some experience in the food service industry.

“It would be helpful to know what it’s like to be a hostess, server or cook,” Yoo said.

Although she might not have had much experience in the food service industry, she is quickly learning, as small-business owners often get to experience every aspect of a business’ operations.

“I do everything from kitchen work to serving as a hostess,” Yoo said. “Throwing on my chef’s apron during the restaurant’s busy hours is very common.”

Yoo has only been a small-business owner for three months, but she has learned in that short time that people skills and patience are essential.

Besides having the opportunity to own a business and doing what she loves, Yoo has found that her favorite part is meeting people and sharing her passion for fine Korean food.

“I love the feedback and compliments that I get,” Yoo said.

To learn more about Jina Yoo’s Asian Bistro, visitjinayoo.com

Jeanette Porter

All Dogs and Cats

After 12 years working in the “corporate world” for Quaker Oats, Jeanette Porter is making the most of her love for animals.

“I’ve always wanted to own my own business,” she said.

In the last three years, Porter decided it was time to really begin thinking about her opportunities. Despite not knowing exactly what she wanted to do, she knew she would enjoy working with animals.

“One of my first jobs was working for a vet who offered boarding and grooming,” she said. “I decided just to go out on my own and go back to what I love, and that’s animals.”

Porter determined her future during dinner near All Dogs and Cats, when she persuaded her husband to go in and take a look, just to get a few ideas. At the time she was considering opening a boarding facility. When she went in and started talking with the employees, she learned the previous business owner was interested in selling.

“One thing lead to another,” Porter said.

By June, Porter purchased the business that originally opened in 2001.

Porter took on the endeavor of writing her own business plan and used the University Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship for financial advising.

Porter continued working at Quaker Oats and didn’t become full-time at All Dogs and Cats until the end of July.

“It was real crazy for the first month and a half,” Porter said. “My husband and I were sort of both trying to work our regular jobs and work here.”

Now that Porter is full-time, her husband only assists when she requests the additional help.

Porter has found many advantages of owning her own business.

“You’re in control of your own destiny,” Porter said.

You have the flexibility to implement an idea, unlike in the corporate world when you have to take the appropriate steps and gain the correct approval, which can be a lengthy process, Porter said.

All Dogs and Cats has nine employees, some of which were with the business under previous ownership.

It offers full grooming, haircuts, nail trimming, medicated shampoos and boarding facilities for animals. All Dogs and Cats also offers day care and overnight boarding. The business sees about 35 dogs a day through scheduled appointments and walk-ins.

Porter has realized many skills are essential to owning a business including organization and people skills, but she lists her degree in accounting as one of her most beneficial tools.

Being able to budget the business and understand the financial aspect has been especially helpful, Porter said.

After living in Columbia for 12 years, Porter decided it was a great location to own her own business and plans to remain in the area.

“I’m happy that I made the move,” she said. “It’s important to do what you love to do every day.”

All Dogs and Cats is open from 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday.

Pat Gruber

Pat Gruber and Associates

After 28 years in “corporate America,” Pat Gruber left the insurance claims industry to use the experiences and skills he had gained to help others achieve success.

When Gruber decided to open his own business, he considered several possibilities. But first, he did a self-assessment to identify his potential.

“My strengths are interaction with people one-on-one,” Gruber said.

Gruber opened a coaching and consulting business, Pat Gruber and Associates, in February 2007. He offers services in strategic planning, leadership building and goal-setting for personal and organizational development.

Freedom and creativity are a few of the perks Gruber has noticed since becoming a small-business owner.

“I get the opportunity to do more of what I want to do rather than what somebody else wants me to do,” he said.

Gruber consults with virtually anyone — restaurants to construction companies — as long as he sees an opportunity to help them achieve greater potential. Most of his clients are local, with the exception of a few in Sedalia and Springfield.

“When I’m just starting, I’ll go anywhere,” Gruber said.

Starting out, Gruber has realized he has few guarantees, doesn’t make a lot of money and spends a lot of time figuring out how to meet and network with the right people.

“I’m learning that I don’t know much about computer software, and I have to worry about a lot of things that someone else used to worry about for me,” Gruber said.

Long hours are often typical of entrepreneurs and small-business owners.

“I don’t even pay attention to how many hours I’m working,” Gruber said. “It’s all day, every day; it’s pretty all-consuming.”

He doesn’t mind the long hours and demanding work.

“I’m much more dedicated and focused to my business than I might be if I was just in a job working for someone else,” Gruber said.

He is the sole consultant for his company, but as the business grows, he will consider taking on an associate. Gruber has yet to settle into an office building, but expansion could find him looking for office space in the future.

“I do an awful lot of business in coffee shops,” Gruber said. “I’ve been in more coffee shops in the past eight months than I’d been in during my entire life before owning my own business.”

Gruber is excited about the trend Columbia is experiencing with entrepreneurs starting new businesses. He thinks it is because people want to chase their dreams and stay away from or get out of the corporate culture.

“There are just so many people who are anxious to do what they love to do and find that the corporate culture doesn’t offer that to them,” Gruber said.

“Many people have an idea or a dream to achieve, but they don’t know how to do it,” Gruber said. “They don’t know the hard work involved, how to set a vision for what they want to do or the strategic plan to get there.”

This is where Gruber provides the missing link with the coaching and consulting services he offers.

Gruber not only lives by but also teaches that small-business owners must be sold on their business ideas and believe in what they are doing because of the high risks involved.

Gruber said someone once told him that if he wanted to start a business, he had to go for it with everything.

“It takes all you have,” Gruber said. “It’s a lot of effort, and if you’re not 100 percent committed to it every day, you’re not going to make it.”

Since transferring to Shelter Insurance’s home office in 1998, Gruber has made Columbia home and doesn’t plan on leaving anytime soon.

“We are established in the community,” Gruber said. “My wife is employed here at Boone Hospital, and this is where we have friends and contacts. It was natural to develop the business here.”

For more information about the services he offers, go to patgruber.com.

“My biggest interest, honestly, is to help people reach their goals and reach their potential,” he said.


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