Top Tank contestants preparing to pitch their business ideas to a panel of Topeka businessmen for a $ 100,000 investment opportunity will have plenty of resources available for assistance.

The deadline for submitting applications is Thursday, Aug. 31. A committee will narrow entries to 20 finalists by November.

Aspiring entrepreneurs who may not know exactly what the start-up process looks like won’t have to navigate it blindly. Topeka resources for small business start-ups, including GO Topeka and Washburn University’s Small Business Development Center, both at 110 S.E. 6th, offer classes and counseling.

Jared Rudy, who with his friend, Adam Rosdahl, and their wives, Emily Rudy and Melissa Rosdahl, opened Norsemen Brewing Co. in the NOTO Arts District in October, said the Small Business Development Center was “the catalyst” to get their small business going.

Rudy said the center had the right people and information to help the partners get started.

“Without a doubt, I tell people, if you’re serious about starting a business, and you’re in Topeka, you’ve got the SBDC right there,” he said. “It’s a very valuable resource.”

Norsemen Brewing is located at 830 N. Kansas Ave., but the Top Tank contest will focus on downtown Topeka. Rudy pointed out that Topeka residents get excited about new things, so people planning to start a business should make sure they have a good plan and put time and effort into it.

The brewery has a “Kansas City feel,” Rudy said, in a large, unique space that brought something new to Topeka.

“That’s what I tell anybody, if you want to bring something new and exciting to Topeka, you make sure it’s unique in your own way and make it cool, a place that people want to go and hang out ,and I think you’ll be successful,” he said in an interview this past week. “And then the biggest part after that is keep true to that if you can.”

Rudy shared insight this past week into Norsemen Brewing’s start-up process that provided several examples of the assistance he received from the SBDC. The questions and answers have been edited for length and clarity.

When did you know you wanted to start your business?

I’ve always kind of been an entrepreneur, but I was kind of really just waiting to see an opportunity, and fell in love with brewing craft beer. I met people in the industry, awesome people. I mean, it’s just a big social thing, and that’s what makes it so cool. And I just fell in love with it and saw an opportunity to start a business in it in the arts district here, and that’s kind of how I got into it. The toughest part probably was making sure to have the right team and make sure it was going to be viable, because it’s always scary to close out retirement and stuff like that and take out loans, and start a business that, you know, there’s always a chance — small businesses’ fail rate’s pretty high. But luckily for us, the craft brew small businesses tend to be pretty resilient compared to other businesses. Some do still fail, but the failure rate’s a lot lower than most other start-up businesses.

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What was your first step when you decided to start a business?

The first step was to make sure the wives were totally, 100 percent on board. So we worked on that first, and they had their “aha moment” for different reasons than us, but they still love the craft beer industry, and they own, between the two of them, majority ownership of the business. … It wasn’t until they came on board (that) we started with the SBDC, went to small business classes at the (Topeka and Shawnee County) library. We went to a couple of other small-start breweries. One thing nice about the small breweries is we’re all friendly with each other, we all want to help each other, because we’re trying to take a little piece of the pie from the big guys.

You took one of the classes offered at the library?

It’s put on by the Small Business Development Center. It’s really kind of an introduction to some of the things to be looking out for, some resources. After that class is over, you can then utilize the SBDC resources. They have an accountant there that can help you out with your numbers, they have someone that can help you out with your business plan if you need help with that, they have a lawyer on staff that can help you with some legal questions, they have all these people that you can utilize.

Did you use many of those resources?

Definitely. We had them look over the business plan and offer some suggestions for that, and then we used a guy named Les, who helped us with the finances — sales projections, and the cost of goods, making sure the information that I was giving them was presented correctly, because the banks will want to know that for an SBA loan. If you ever want to get an SBA loan — they’re a Small Business Administration government loan, so they have a little bit lower interest rate, it’s locked in, a little bit harder to get, but if you can get one, it’s really good for you as a small business owner. To get that, they require you to take a type of class or utilize the Small Business Development Center. So by working with SBDC, they were able to recommend us an SBA-specific bank. Because we went to those classes, it gave us a little bit of a leg up. You still have to go do all the legwork, the business plan and show them that there is a business need, but a lot of places won’t even talk to you for an SBA loan if you haven’t gone through the SBDC, so it helps to have that when it comes time to talk to a bank about an SBA loan.

So it’s kind of a referral process?

Yep, it really is, especially in a town like Topeka. We’re really a small town — 127,000. It’s really who you know, who you can convince. It’s about networking in Topeka, for sure. I’m sure it’s like that in other places, but without a doubt, it’s all about networking and getting contacts with the right people.

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Were there elements of the business plan that were more difficult than others?

The hardest part of the business plan is just getting it started. There’s a lot that goes into a business plan. Really, they kind of helped us fine-tune it. They were able to read through it and offer suggestions. A lot of people that work for the Small Business Development Center have been business owners for many years. There’s not a lot of experience out there with running or starting a brewery, but they still had a lot of experience in restaurants, or running roofing companies, other type of businesses, that could be used. In the end, a microbrewery is a small business, so there’s a lot of things you can take away that you use in all small businesses.

Was there any piece of advice the SBDC gave you that was essential?

They did put me into contact with people. They knew about incentives — for example, the GO Topeka incentives. So they put me in contact with the correct person for each incentive so I could start the application process with them. So they’re a little bit more in touch with the small business incentives than you might be without doing your own research. They might be able to point you in the right direction to speed that process along for you. We had two GO Topeka incentives — well, we technically kind of had three. We had one that had to do with construction, because of this NOTO area, so we had a small $ 5,000 incentive to help you cover construction costs. They had another small $ 5,000 one where it covered equipment, so part of our signage and stuff like that. And they also had one where they reimburse you the difference for the increase in property tax. If you take a building down here that’s not valued very much and you fix it up, the property tax is going to increase. So there’s an incentive to help reimburse you, for a few years after opening, for that difference.

Do they offer market analysis?

The SBDC does have access to paid material that has information on your particular market. So I did get a lot of information on the beer market, for example. Now, it didn’t deal directly with craft beer as much as it did with the beer market as a whole, but I was able to take that information and read through it and use some of that information to put in my business plan. Which is nice, because usually that type of information you have to pay pretty big money for, so not too many places have access to that.

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Do they have people who can give advice on location?

Yes. In fact, we found out about this building through Karl Klein at the SBDC. We had heard rumors about this building, thought it was going to be out of our league. We had looked at some other buildings. But he said — he emailed somebody — said, ‘Hey, this building’s for sale, I think based on what we’ve seen it’d be a good fit for you.’ So we came and looked at it, and long story short, we ended up buying it. So in a sense, yeah, they might be aware of other potential opportunities that you might not know right away. They have the opportunity to always be networking, and they can hear things that you might not hear.

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Is Topeka a good place to start a business?

I totally believe so. … One thing I didn’t realize, Topeka does have a bit of a stigma, a lot of people think there’s nothing to do in Topeka. But really … there is a lot to do in Topeka. And part of our business plan as being a craft brewery was to help that. Craft breweries are destination places. People driving through, coming in from out of town, the first thing they do is look up a brewery. A lot of people do. And so the first thing, it’s even in our business plan, was to help put Topeka more on the map, people to come spend a night, hit three breweries in town, and spend some money with tax dollars here. … And it’s happened, we’ve had people come in and stop in Topeka overnight on their way through from Montana to Texas or something like that, and they stay here and hit the breweries and they continue on through, and that’s something that you would not have heard of a year ago. So in short, yes, I think Topeka’s a great place. There’s a lot of resources that some of the other towns do not have, like the SBDC. Topeka’s still small enough to have that small town feel, so as long as you’re good at networking … and have a good idea, I think there’s many opportunities for businesses in Topeka.

sbaloan – BingNews