Five Questions With: Ed Huttenhower

Ed Huttenhower has been state director for the Rhode Island Small Business Development Center at the University of Rhode Island since September 2015. In that capacity, he supervises the center in its delivery of services to the small-business community across the state. He has many years of service in the public and private sectors working with, and for, small businesses.

Huttenhower previously worked with SBDCs in Maine, West Virginia and Pennsylvania prior to Rhode Island. He has also worked as general manager for several small, family-owned businesses. He has a strong passion for small business and its success. He holds a bachelor’s degree from Grove City College and an MBA from the Katz School at the University of Pittsburgh. He and his wife live in Hopkinton.

PBN: In July, the Rhode Island Small Business Development Center at URI announced a $243,815 grant from the Rhode Island Foundation to support the needs of the non-tech small businesses looking to grow. From where did the catalyst for this new focus come?

HUTTENHOWER: In 2017, the Rhode Island Foundation looked at the small-business ecosystem in the state. Based on the research that was done, it was determined there was a gap in services for non-tech small businesses poised for growth. The Growth Hub provides services to these companies so that they can grow and contribute significantly to the state’s small-business economy.

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PBN: The money will allow the RISBDC to expand its services. What will the organization offer now that it didn’t before?

HUTTENHOWER: The Growth Hub, through its director, Paul Harden, will be working exclusively with small businesses that want to take advantage of every opportunity to grow their businesses, whether it be increasing sales, expanding into new markets, developing new products/services, utilizing new sales channels, etc. Through the Growth Hub, the RISBDC has a dedicated individual to work with these businesses, providing services that are individualized to the business and its growth opportunities.

PBN: Why were non-tech firms targeted through this initiative? Do local tech firms have other resources on which non-tech firms cannot draw?

HUTTENHOWER: As stated above, the research that was done indicated that there was a need for additional services to non-tech firms. When one looks at the environment that exists, not only in Rhode Island but across the country, one sees numerous initiatives that are geared to the tech sector. This includes such things as tech incubators, mentoring networks and so forth.

PBN: In your opinion, what is the No. 1 threat to small-business development in Rhode Island?

HUTTENHOWER: One of the largest threats to small business and small-business development in the state is understanding everything that is involved in starting, growing and succeeding in business. Organizations such as the RISBDC work with existing and prospective small-business owners to help them understand all the ins and outs of their small business and its operation within the environment locally, nationally and globally.

Planning is a key to a successful business and the RISBDC works extensively with businesses on planning. The Growth Hub adds to the arsenal of tools we have to assist virtually any small business in the state.

PBN: The RISBDC is a member of a national coalition of similar organizations. Through your communications with those groups, how does small-business development in Rhode Island compare nationally?

HUTTENHOWER: Ironically, across the country small businesses face similar issues. Many of these problems are no different here in Rhode Island. Items such as access to capital and the regulatory environment exist everywhere. Based on the activity of the RISBDC over the past several years, one can see an expanding small-business base in Rhode Island. This is also happening in many parts of the country.

Emily Gowdey-Backus is a staff writer for PBN. You can follow her on Twitter @FlashGowdey or contact her via email, gowdey-backus@pbn.com.