MSBDC’s Samalid Hogan Wants to Cement Relationships
A Builder and a ‘Connector’
Samalid Hogan takes the reins at the Mass. Small Business Development Center at a time when entrepreneurial energy is high in the region, fueled by the growth of programs aiming to help fledgling ventures succeed. It’s an energy that excites and inspires her in this latest challenge in an intriguing, wide-ranging career.
Whenever someone suggests that Samalid Hogan has big shoes to fill — and that’s a common occurrence, to say the least — she’s ready with a witty response.
“I remind them I have size-11 feet … they’re my father’s feet,” said Hogan, noting that she’s made reference to this statistic countless times since she was named successor to Dianne Fuller Doherty at the Mass. Small Business Development Center Network’s (MSBDC) Western Mass. office a few months ago.
And she acknowledges that she needs those large feet.
Indeed, Doherty, who was once the subject of a chapter in a New York Times series of articles on individuals who worked well past traditional retirement age, was at the helm of the MSBDC for more than 30 years (so long, in fact, that BusinessWest founder John Gormally sought out her help when launched the publication in early 1984 — and more than a few times thereafter). She was, in some respects, synonymous with the agency.
But Hogan feels she’s more than ready to take on the challenge of succeeding Doherty and carrying out the agency’s multi-faceted mission, based on her diverse résumé, one that includes her own entrepreneurial undertakings. It comes complete with a number of public-sector stops working with small businesses to help them launch, grow, and succeed.
“In many ways, I’m just doing what I’ve always done throughout my career,” said Hogan of her new role at the MSBDC, an agency that, in a nutshell, provides free, confidential (two important qualities, to be sure), one-on-one business-advisory services to prospective and existing small-business owners.
That word ‘small’ has a textbook definition of sorts at MSBDC and other area agencies — 100 employees and under. And while the center has, indeed, assisted companies at the far end of that spectrum, most, over the years, have been truly small, and often sole proprietorships.
I love action plans and work to set goals and determine the outcomes that are desired, and then working backward from there. And I like helping people get organized and have a very clear direction of where they’re going.”
Hogan said she became more than a little interested in the directorship of the MSBDC when it was advertised, and then endured a lengthy hiring process, not simply because of the work being done at the center, although that was certainly a big part of it.
Another large part involves timing. Indeed, there is a considerable amount of entrepreneurial activity, or energy, in the region, fueled by the creation and growth of agencies and academic programs with various missions but the collective goals of inspiring entrepreneurship and helping fledgling ventures succeed.
This movement, or this collection of agencies and degree programs, now has a name that is fast becoming part of the local lexicon: entrepreneurial ecosystem.
Hogan said the MSBDC is a proud member of that ecosystem, and is fully invested in efforts to broaden and strengthen this collaborative through partnerships, referrals, and a deep spirit of cooperation.
“At the end of the day, we can all do a better job of referring clients to each other, for the benefit of the client,” she said of the many entrepreneurship-focused agencies in the area. “It comes down to what the client needs and identifying which agencies can best provide those services, and working together.”
For this issue, BusinessWest talked at length with Hogan about this latest career stop, her outlook for the MSBDC and the entrepreneurial ecosystem, and the art and science of advising and mentoring small-business owners.
Hogan met with BusinessWest to discuss all of the above in the conference room at the Chicopee Chamber of Commerce, located in the heart of that city’s downtown.
She was there, as she is every month for a full day, for what she called “outreach,” to meet with clients (small-business owners) one-on-one to discuss, essentially, where they’re at, where they want to get, what it will likely take to get there, and which individuals and agencies might be able to provide some assistance with mapping out the journey.
“We want to be able to go where the clients are and give them that flexiblility so we can serve them better,” she noted, adding that there are similar ‘outreach offices’ in Greenfield, Northampton, and Amherst.
She was wrapping up with one business owner when BusinessWest arrived, and had another that would be waiting in the lobby in less than an hour. So she didn’t waste any time getting to the meat of the discussion, which is the ecosystem, where the MSBDC fits into it all, and how the collective agencies can work together to ultimately provide more and better services.
And she began by drawing a distinction between her approach to this work and the one taken by Doherty.
“She was an investor in small business, and she owned a very successful marketing business,” Hogan said of her predecessor. “My qualifications are slightly different, and I’m more of a entrepreneurship student — I study everything that has to do with small business.
“I do have experience as an entrepreneur,” she went on, noting the co-working space she created. “And I do the advising of small businesses. But what I really like to do is build bridges between all the recent and non-recent entrepreneurial programs and support services.”
And, as noted earlier, Hogan believes she brings a solid background in work with small businesses — as well as with a host of area economic-development-related agencies — to the center and its mission.
She summed up the job descriptions that went with the titles on her various business cards by saying she has been both a “builder” and a “connector,” and usually both at the same time.
The photograph that accompanied her writeup as one of BusinessWest’s 40 Under Forty winners in 2013, when she was employed as senior project manager for the city of Springfield, shows her with a hard hat, shovel, and a few bricks.
These are the physical, or literal, symbols of construction, she explained, adding that much of the building she’s part of has been figurative in nature, as in building relationships, partnerships, coalitions, and momentum for a city, neighborhood, agency, or office holder’s platform.
Indeed, Hogan, an economics major at Bay Path University, was recruited by a major financial-services firm. But her skill set, strong personality, and considerable confidence caught the attention of state Rep. Cheryl Coakley-Rivera, who successfully recruited Hogan to become her chief of staff.
In that role, she became the ‘connector’ she mentioned earlier, connecting constituents to agencies and resources and, in the process, helping them manage their problem or issue (work in very ways similar to that carried out by the MSBDC.)
From Coakley’s office, Hogan would move to the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission, where she would handle similar duties, but on a region-wide basis. In the course of doing so, she would become familiar with — and partner with — many more agencies and institutions involved in the many aspects of economic development.
From there, she segued to a project manager’s position in Springfield, a role that involved more of that connecting she was becoming proficient at, but also a good deal of literal, bricks-and-mortar building.
Hogan became involved in a host of initiatives, including the South End revitalization project, Court Square redevelopment efforts, brownfield-restoration efforts, redevelopment of the former Gemini site, and many others. She also worked directly with small-business owners, through a façade program and a small-business loan program.
In 2015, she took her collective experience to a different city and different challenge, specifically Holyoke’s Innovation District, where she worked with a list of officials, agencies, business owners, and prospective entrepreneurs to generate energy and commerce in the heart of the Paper City.
When she saw that the MSBDC was advertising for a new director (it had gone several months without one after Doherty officially stepped down in 2015), she quickly embraced the position as the most logical next step in a career in many ways defined by work with and on behalf of small enterprises.
Getting a Foot in the Door
“I’ve been working with small businesses for a long time in economic development,” said Hogan as she explained her interest in the MSBDC. “I like being able to help people and guide them — I’m a project manager.
“I love action plans and work to set goals and determine the outcomes that are desired, and then working backward from there,” she went on. “And I like helping people get organized and have a very clear direction of where they’re going.”
Acting as project manager is how she characterizes her role at the MSBDC, using that term in reference to the cases of individual clients.
And the cases, or projects, vary with each person or business that finds the agency.
As noted earlier, the center, funded by the U.S. Small Business Administration and the state Office of Business Development, and hosted by UMass Amherst and its Isenberg School of Management, assists what are, technically speaking, small businesses, but some operations that most would consider large, with 100 or more employees.
It also assists companies with a few dozen or more workers that are looking to get to the proverbial next stage, usually through some type of financing — one of many realms where the center can make some effective connections.
But much of the work, including the outreach Hogan was conducting when she met with BusinessWest, would be with what are considered very small ventures and prospective businesses that exist maybe on a napkin or in someone’s imagination.
To explain what she does, and what the center does, she summoned a hypothetical situation, only the situation — and the commentary — is, all too often, very real.
“I’ll ask someone to tell me about their business,” she started. “They’ll say, ‘I just got started, I have a few sales, but I don’t really know where to go with this. I need to hire some people, and to expand, I need to do this and that.’
“I’ll then say, ‘OK, who’s your accountant? Who’s your lawyer? Who do you work with on insurance?’” she went on. “They’ll say, ‘I don’t have an accountant, I don’t have a lawyer … and do I really need insurance?’ And then I’ll go through the basics with them.”
Advice often begins with the basics, she continued, but it rarely ends there, and often involves the next steps after hiring those professionals listed above — work to identify markets, develop strategies for reaching those markets, secure financing, promote the product or service, and much more.
“People who come here might be frustrated or confused and not really sure about what they want to do,” she told BusinessWest. “By asking them questions, I can help them self-discover the path they want to take.”
Then there are those bridge-building efforts, she said, adding that, while the MSBDC provides an array of important services, it is just one player in the region’s ever-broadening efforts to inspire, educate, and mentor entrepreneurs.
Others within the ecosystem include SCORE, which focuses on industry-specific business guidance; the Small Business Administration and Common Capital, which connect business owners with capital; Valley Venture Mentors, which mentors entrepreneurs and helps them hone their pitches and identify markets; and many others.
Linking clients with these partner agencies is an important part of the MSBDC’s mission, said Hogan, adding that one agency simply can’t do it all alone, and partnerships are vital — for specific business owners, but also the region as a whole.
“Oftentimes, I will walk people over to SCORE,” she said, noting that both agencies have offices in the Scibelli Enterprise Center in Springfield, as does New England Business Associates. “We need to help clients access all the agencies that can help them grow their businesses.”
Hogan said she hasn’t had to summon that size-11-feet remark lately, as commentary about the big shoes she has to fill has subsided somewhat.
Indeed, she has settled into a role that is different than others she has had over the years in some respects, but at its foundation is fundamentally the same. It’s all about building bridges, being a connector, and managing projects.
She’s always been good at that, and now that she’s putting those talents to use in ways that will help businesses get … well, if you’ll pardon the expression, a leg up.
George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]