If a keen sense of curiosity is the sextant that has guided Hollis McGuire through most of her adult life, then passion is the steady breeze that drives her forward in everything she does, including her role with the New Hampshire Small Business Development Center.
It was curiosity that led McGuire, a certified public accountant and former small-business owner, to her current position as regional manager of Nashua’s Small Business Development Center just over one year ago.
When a good friend handed her an employment ad from a local newspaper, “my curiosity took over. Every single thing about this job sounded exciting,” said the Milford resident. Her role with the state’s small-business outreach program has proven to be the one place where her talents, interests, education and business experience meld to benefit those who seek her assistance.
Formed in 1984, the SBDC is a program of the University of New Hampshire’s Whittemore School of Business and Economics. Funding for the non-profit organization comes from the University System of New Hampshire, the U.S. Small Business Administration, New Hampshire’s Department of Resources and Economic Development and the private sector. Its mission is to foster economic vitality throughout the Granite State by providing the resources and guidance small businesses and communities need to grow and succeed.
Employed by UNH and housed in space donated by Rivier College in Nashua, McGuire now oversees services in the 88 communities that make up the greater Nashua and greater Manchester areas.
Originally hired to work in the Nashua area, Manchester was added to McGuire’s territory when funding restraints reduced the number of counselors working at regional offices from six to four.
As regional manager, McGuire is both counselor and matchmaker. She works with small-business owners to establish goals for their companies and then puts them together with the resources that will help them to reach those goals.
“When I work with a client, I want to help them achieve long-term, meaningful growth. I want to help develop these clients so they are able to bring value back to the state. Success for them means more jobs, more revenue and more products for everyone who lives here,” said McGuire.
Art and numbers
McGuire’s resume includes employment as a product manager for Digital Equipment Corp., as a CPA with the former Coopers & Lybrand in Boston and as owner of McGuire and Stebbins, a CPA firm in Milford she sold two years ago to Manchester-based Baker, Newman and Noyes.
With an education that embraced two seemingly opposing subjects — art and numbers — McGuire brings an interesting and beneficial perspective to her position.
In addition to being a CPA, McGuire has an undergraduate degree in art history and restoration from the University of Connecticut, which included a year of independent study in Europe. This, she said, has nurtured her attention to detail. An MBA with a concentration in finance helps McGuire to identify possibilities and create value where it might not have previously existed.
“Hollis epitomizes the quality we seek in our counselors. She brings a diverse background and very strong financial skills to her clients. She has a very unique ability to identify opportunities for her clients,” said Mary Collins, state director of the SBDC.
While McGuire’s own professional and educational background certainly qualify her to offer advice to up-and-coming businesses, it is the effort she puts into educating herself about area resources that she believes proves most beneficial to her clients.
“My value to my clients is what I know and what I am learning. I have to be in touch with what is happening in the business world to bring value back to my clients,” said McGuire.
This knowledge proved indispensable for entrepreneur Mark Ravenelle who, along with business partner Larry Ouellette, invented a shock system designed to discourage birds from perching along billboards.
“I tell her where I am, and she tells me where I need to go. She gives me a push and makes things happen,” said Ravenelle, whose company, Shocking Systems Inc., is still in its infancy.
For Ravenelle, McGuire’s guidance in constructing a business plan, composing financials and identifying potential funding sources has been critical.
Closing the capital gap
For McGuire, knowing “what’s happening” includes being up-to-date on educational programs like seminars and forums presented by the New Hampshire High Tech Council or SCORE, the Service Corps of Retired Executives. She also prides herself on her knowledge of current service and product trends.
Navigating the funding maze is another area of need presented by her clients.
According to McGuire, many of the state’s small-business owners find themselves in a financial no-man’s-land when it comes to securing money needed to take their business to the next level. In situations where the risk presented by the small business exceeds the financial reach of traditional funding sources — but financial needs are too low for venture capitalists — McGuire becomes a financial Sherpa of sorts, guiding clients through the complex private investment process. Finding a way to close this “capital gap” is among her highest priorities.
Knowledge of government funding sources, such as Small Business Innovation Research grants for scientific and high tech companies, is important to McGuire and the clients she serves. By staying versed in potential resources like SBIR grants, she can be instrumental in helping small-business owners pursue and secure this source of funding.
“When clients work with Hollis, they find other doors open. She knows what’s going on out there and knows where to point her clients. She has a vision that is so critical,” Collins said.
This vision and the resources she taps changes with every client, according to McGuire. “Every person is so different. Every business is so different. I really have to figure out who they are and what they want to be,” she said. “We’re building a vision. Where do they want to be with sales and profits? We have to set goals that are measurable and set timelines to measure progress.”
Pulling together all her knowledge and her experience is critical in getting clients to view their product or service in a realistic way so that they are capable in defining these goals.
“I want to help clients take off the rose-colored glasses and look at reality. Most times the business idea might just need to be tweaked to become feasible. I help them take what might be a good business proposition and make it excellent. I’m there to be encouraging. I want to get them to the next step as effectively as possible,” said McGuire.
This was exactly the kind of help Tammi Wilson was looking for when she met with McGuire in January to talk about moving her Web design company, Braveheart Design Inc., forward.
“We needed to grow. I had several ideas in mind but needed somebody with a strong business sense to offer some directions,” Wilson said.
What she didn’t expect, however, was the valuable resource she discovered in McGuire.
“Hollis is this whole world of knowledge. She was able to validate what I wanted to do and connect me with the people I needed to meet. For me, Hollis turned out to be a personal coach, cheerleader and networking expert.”
McGuire enjoys wearing the multitude of hats demanded by her position and finds it easy to put a positive spin on what she says is her biggest challenge — needing to be in two places at one time.
“It gets crazy sometimes, but I really look forward to going to work every day. There is so much good stuff being done across the state. The best thing I can do is to understand that and put the right people together to make things happen,” she said.
This article appears in the May 27 2005 issue of New Hampshire Business Review