When small business owner Julia Dannen immigrated to the United States from Russia in 2004, she had no college education or set career path.
But after moving from New York to Iowa, she put herself through college and started her own tax business.
In 2021, Dannen was named the Deb Dalziel Woman Entrepreneur Achievement Award winner by the state Small Business Development Center.
One of the things she was successful at was helping her clients in the Mason City area gain access to Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans through the federal government.
It’s that type of entrepreneurship and inclusivity that America’s Small Business Development Center Iowa is hoping to promote and develop in others.
Dannen was in attendance during an Inclusivity Challenge Kickoff Event Wednesday morning at the Bioscsience and Health Science Building on the main campus of Iowa Central Community College.
Mark Madrid, associate administrator in the Office of Entrepreneurial Development at U.S. Small Business Administration, was impressed with Dannen’s story.
“She helped people in this area access government funding such as the PPP program, which is attached as forgiveness,” Madrid said. “As a small business owner herself, she was an advocate.
“If you take a look at where she started, walking to community college and where she is today — especially immigrating from Russia etc. — that is the American dream. Not only is she sustaining herself in this area in Iowa but she is helping those rural Iowa entrepreneurs.”
Dannen, a graduate of North Iowa Area Community College in Mason City and the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls, owns D & S Services in Mason City. One of her biggest pieces of advice to other entrepreneurs is not to give up.
“Determination,” she said. “I always wanted to accomplish something. And faith. Those are the big ones. Don’t give up.”
Dannen said she maintained a strong desire for succeeding in life.
“My desire to do something good in this life for me and my child as a single mother,” Dannen said. “Now my child is a junior in high school. It’s been a great journey and very rewarding.”
The Inclusivity Challenge has the goal of helping minority business owners recover from the pandemic. According to published news reports, minority business owners have been dropping out of the business world at a higher rate than white business owners.
The Inclusivity Challenge provides resources including customized, culturally relevant business and financial advising, business education webinars, and access to the most well-connected small business networks so that underserved entrepreneurs can navigate the path of small business success.
“Diversity is America’s greatest economic development asset,” Madrid said. “That’s the bottom line. The numbers don’t lie. That’s the direction we are headed in. It’s a beautiful day here in Iowa. Having gotten off the plane from (Washington) D.C. to be here with Lisa (Shimkat, state director America’s SBDC Iowa) and her team and with the district office, for the launch of the Inclusivity Challenge.”
Madrid said the challenge involves meeting small businesses where they are.
Broadband will be key to the development of small businesses in rural Iowa, according to Madrid.
“Access,” Madrid said. “Access to the internet. Broadband access, which is very important to President (Joe) Biden, Vice President (Kamala) Harris and Administrator (Isabella) Guzman. With the bipartisan infrastructure deal on the table, broadband and cybersecurity are important elements,”
Broadband has certainly been a focus in Fort Dodge as earlier this week the City Council took steps to ensure that a municipal broadband utility will provide internet service to customers in 2023.
Yvette Collazo, associate administrator for Small Business Development Centers at U.S. Small Business Administration, also traveled from the nation’s capital to be in Fort Dodge on Wednesday. She said supply chain is another top concern for small business owners.
“We’ve been talking to the different businesses and one of the things we learned — one of the challenges they mentioned – was supply chain and the cost of doing business,” Collazo said. “I think that if the SBA could play a role maybe in an overall program that would help with the supply chain issues. That would be key in helping businesses in the rural areas.”
Collazo said inclusivity is important on a global scale.
“Mark and I have a good experience for how important it is,” she said. “We live it every day and it’s also something small businesses live every day. The importance of inclusivity really comes in in global markets. The more inclusive we are, the better position we are in a global market. That’s really what it brings to the table.”
One opportunity for small business owners in the area involves the Community Navigator Pilot Program.
“Recently we launched the Community Navigator Pilot,” Madrid said. “It is a $100 million granting opportunity through the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021. The whole effort behind that is to meet small businesses where they are. The smallest of the small. Both in urban and rural America and priority focus is on those businesses owned by women, veterans, and socially and economically disadvantaged individuals. The whole thing about that is we want to make sure that folks who have not accessed the SBA for whatever reason, in all parts of the country, have the means to do so.
“And the way we are going to do that is through grants. We look forward bright spotting best practices that are helping small businesses during recovery and some in survival mode.”
For more information on the program, visit sba.gov.
Throughout the country, Madrid said being able to connect businesses with opportunities has been key.
“How to empower them and meet them where they are,” he said. “That will open up the opportunities and build confidence. Distance to something doesn’t have to be an impediment to opportunities. And the key to that is broadband access. Access to the world through the internet. Access to digitized portion of your services and expand your marketplace. Locally, countywide, statewide, regional, federal, nationally, internationally. Rural is very important for us to meet them and access to broadband will be significant.”
Iowa State Extension and Outreach Center — Webster County, Iowa Central Community College, Greater Fort Dodge Growth Alliance , Iowa Economic Development Authority, All Cultures Equal, Community House, Small Business Administration and America’s Small Business Development Center Iowa, were among the organizations in attendance for the Inclusivity Challenge event.
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