In 1999, Hannah Guishard and fellow veterinarian Edward Mitchell developed a business plan for a 24-hour emergency veterinary clinic just outside Atlanta, Georgia. Both had the professional credentials to make the dream work. The former classmates at Tuskegee University’s veterinary school had gone their separate ways following graduation to work for other clinics. When Edward relocated to Georgia in 1998, he reconnected with Hannah and found that she too shared the dream of being a business owner.
With the help of the Small Business Development Center at Clayton College & State University, the two aspiring entrepreneurs prepared what they thought was a solid business plan. Unfortunately, the loan officers they visited felt otherwise. “We would not get any positive response at all,” Hannah says. “Some wanted a lot of collateral while others simply said no.”
Hannah learned about SCORE’s free mentoring services and made an appointment to see Ray Silva, a retired business executive. “Ray reviewed the plan and told me that we had done everything right,” she says. “The problem was, we weren’t marketing it properly.”
And talk about instant success. On her first attempt after talking to Silva, Hannah secured a long-term, SBA-backed fixed-rate loan. She and Edward used the funds to construct and equip a 3,427-square-foot clinic near a busy mall in Union City. They also took advantage of a working capital loan from the Economic Development Center to cover some of their start-up costs.
Since opening Union City Veterinary Center and Emergency Clinic in 2000, two classmates-turned-business partners have watched their dream flourish. After starting out by trading grueling 12-hour shifts, they have added staff to handle the growing customer base. The practice grossed more than $1.2 million in 2004, outpacing even their most optimistic projections.
Silva coached Hannah on presentation skills, and ways that she could sell both her plan and herself with confidence. “When I left the SCORE office, I was on Cloud 9,” Hannah says. “I felt so good about myself and what I had done.”
Hannah is grateful to Ray Silva and SCORE for helping her overcome what had been a perplexing obstacle to making the clinic a reality. “Ray gave me both ideas and the confidence to make our case to the banks,” she says. “Just about every week, one of our clients says something about starting a business. I always tell them to go to SCORE. When you’re starting out and have little money, why pay for great information that you can get for free?”