PCC SBDC – Your Local CARES Connection

Pam Sornson, JD

Its name suggests only a small part of the great work done by the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) at Pasadena City College (PCC). Yes, it does provide counseling, support, information, and guidance to any business looking to launch, grow, or expand. These days, however, it’s also a central support center for company owners looking for help in accessing federal CARES Act resources. Plus, it offers students an entrepreneurial-oriented training facility so they can learn the nuts and bolts of building a business in addition to their classwork studies. The full scope of the SBDC keeps director Don Loewel and his staff and business advisors busier than they’ve ever been.


The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) is the federal government’s economic response to the COVID-19 crisis, which has shut down thousands of businesses across the state. It offers financial relief for displaced workers, small businesses, and state and local governments struggling with business closures, falling revenues, and mounting debts. At the SBDC, Loewel’s 12 business advisors are hard at work, providing research and support to hundreds of local companies seeking loans and other types of assistance while they wait out the virus shutdown. The advisors also offer guidance to company leaders on managing the transition to a post-covid workplace,  including those with newly established remote workers, and remote customers.

And its services are no-cost to the organizations that need them. The Center is supported by a variety of grants, as well as by its host, Pasadena City College. Its open-door policy is proving especially advantageous to the San Gabriel Valley business community here in 2020. Because of the virus, the number of companies served by the PCC SBDC this year is expected to grow to over 1,000, as the pandemic sweeps in waves through the economy. PCC’s SBDC helps its business clients maintain their core values while also helping them plan for a decidedly different future.

While the SBDC is already a busy office – it typically serves 600 to 700 unique business clients per year – it is open to any small business owner or entrepreneur who wants information about developing and building a business. As one of 35 SBDC’s spread across California, the Pasadena Center shares resources with its colleagues and partners in the Los Angeles Regional SBDC Network, which also offers access to a deep and extensive collection of information and tools. Research reveals that SBDC’s deliver measurable economic impact to their communities based on their clients’ job creation capacities and volume of revenue generation.


Expertise Built on Experience

Loewel himself brings significant experience into the SBDC leadership role, after enjoying a 25-year career in marketing, management, and sales in the Medical Device and telemedicine software industries. His commercial strategy and business development acumen have assisted many Southern California small and mid-market firms in building sustainable and long-term growth. He first spent three years as a consultant and advisor for the PCC SBDC before taking the director job in 2018.

His team of expert advisors also provide a wealth of information and insights gleaned from long and successful business careers. With a consistent eye on innovation, these professionals instruct their clients on business planning, marketing strategies, financial analysis, and raising capital, just to name a few. They also help budding entrepreneurs apply Lean Launchpad principles, to build strong foundations for their startups. Loewel and his team have mentored startup teams at PCC, CalState LA, Caltech, and USC. And while based primarily in the regions’ major industries (technology, healthcare, bioscience, retail, and manufacturing), SBDC expertise and workshops also cover foundational business standards, such as corporate organization, accounting, and human resources. Depending on the product or service, clients can explore the many facets of the hospitality industry, the challenges presented by local, regional, and global logistics, or how to design a successful website.


Engaging the PCC Campus

In fall, 2019, the PCC SBDC pioneered a new concept on campus, the PCC Maker Festival. Inviting faculty and students from the school’s many clubs, including the MESA organization (Math, Engineering, Sciences, and Arts), Loewel and his team hosted local industry organizations to display their technology to Festival attendees. The all-day event gathered 200 visitors, including students, businesses, and the public in general, who toured 18 exhibitor booths, learning about each other and future possibilities of working together. The JPL Rover project was an especially popular display, and based on the turnout and feedback, Loewel is planning to host PCC Maker Festival as an annual event.


Leading Life-Long Learners

In addition to one-on-one advising and consultations, the SBDC delivers many of its resources through its workshops, which are open to all:


These series of seminars and workshops offer insights into the latest industry evolutions and trends. Recent gatherings have focused on how technology is influencing the art of doing business, and their topics included seminars on digital marketing and the fundamentals of e-Commerce. Tailored to meet the commercial demands of the day, the SBDC designs each session to deliver the essential best practices and strategies needed to compete in today’s challenging economic climate. Undoubtedly, someone at the SBDC is designing new workshops and seminars that address the business concerns emerging from and caused by the current pandemic.

Venture Launch

Perhaps the ‘star’ of the PCC SBDC program is its “Venture Launch” program. This six-week program teaches “Lean Startup” principles to multiple teams of innovators and entrepreneurs. Its goal is to provide the hands-on learning needed to test the commercial viability and business model of a new product or business idea. Each week, teams conduct their own field tests on their selected business model, then report their findings and conclusions to the class. Free to PCC students and alumni, the course guides the teams through all phases of initiating corporate development, including analysis of its value propositions, distribution channels, customer acquisition, revenue models, and more.

Venture Launch is led by Loewel and Albert Napoli (a lecturer at the USC Grief School of Entrepreneurship), using the “Lean Methodology” principles developed, in part, by entrepreneurship icon Steve Blank. In addition to PCC students, Venture Launch has included teams from the local tech community as well as USC, Caltech, and CalState LA. The PCC SBDC offers 2 cohorts of Venture Launch each year, with the spring program currently underway via Zoom. For information on the Fall cohort of Venture Launch, please go to www.pccventurelaunch.com, or email us at pccventurelaunch@pasadena.edu.


By all accounts, PCC’s Small Business Development Center is anything but small – just ask the local business owners who found the help they needed at this very challenging time. Small business owners, students, and regional industries all benefit from the vision and insights offered by the PCC SBDC team, right when the San Gabriel Valley community needs them the most.


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