LA CROSSE, Wis.—  The Wisconsin Small Business Development Center is tied to the state’s university system. It has branches across the state, including in La Crosse at UW-La Crosse.

SBDC hosts entrepreneurial training programs for aspiring and current business owners. It serves about 400, annually. The pandemic made that number skyrocket to more than 1,100.

“This most recent session started in early February and this year; we’re doing it virtually,” said director Anne Hlavacka.

ETP helps entrepreneurs test their concept, develop their business plan, and hone in on marketing and financial skills.

Olena Belka owns and operates Bluffview Development Group with her partner, Thomas Garibaldi. Olena took the 6-week training course and said her business may not have survive without it.

“Think about what if something will change, what if there will be no financial support, or customers,” Olena said. “How will you survive? We figured it out.”

She and Thomas changed their entire business model when the pandemic hit. They went from serving clients and renovating homes to a partnership with the city of La Crosse. They’re now part of the city’s rehabilitation initiative, helping to revitalize old properties.

"We had one week of just nothing and we lost a few clients too, which made us pretty nervous,” Thomas said. “After that first week, it’s been nothing but work.”

The past year has been a particular challenge for small business owners nationwide. The duo credits SBDC for helping them secure financial relief and giving them to tools necessary to adapt to a world that was constantly changing.

“You have to be flexible,” Olena said.

Anne also notes the number of entrepreneurs wanting to start a business during the pandemic.

“I probably am taking and fielding as many calls from start-up businesses as we do in most years,” Anne said.

To learn more about ETP and to find out how to participate, click here.