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Valley businesses get boost from ASU expertise

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An idea lab is helping sprout durable concepts to help some Valley business owners grip the reins of success.

But Arizona State University’s SMB lab — for small and midsize businesses — represents more than spit balling a few ideas over a cup of java, said Hitendra Chaturvedi, supply chain expert and professor of practice at the W.P. Carey School of Business at ASU.

Instead, these brainstorming exercises are leading to solve problems ranging from the competitive strategy of a particular business to reducing its inventory levels, the supply chain expert said.

“After (the) pandemic, (we saw) there was trouble with small and medium businesses,” Chaturvedi said. (We wanted) to see who we could help.”
The business consulting work has added up to about $5 million in free expertise during the past two years, Chaturvedi said.

Chaturvedi and Amapola Judd-Shimp of the Southwest Valley Chamber of Commerce have partnered with business owners and ASU graduate students, who help carry out recommendations.

In Arizona, small and medium businesses comprise more than 99% of the business landscape and are vital, the supply chain expert said.

According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, the state’s small businesses are vital to the economy, with 650,151 operating in Arizona as of 2023 employing 1.1 million people. The SBA considers companies with less than 500 employees as small businesses.

Those businesses are showing some signs or resiliency in the wake of the pandemic that saw many companies shutter. While closing levels in the wake of the pandemic reached levels not seen since the Great Recession in 2008, the number of new businesses has skyrocketed, according to SBA data.

The SBA said 25,424 small businesses were created between March 2021 and March 2022, compared with 17,808 closings. Employment also grew at more than 42,000 small businesses and contracted at more than 29,000.
The lab meets at Western Maricopa Education Center, 5487 N. 99th Ave., Glendale, or via Zoom.

So far, eight companies have gone through the lab, according to Chaturvedi.

One business, Phoenix-based Latham Industries, has benefited from the SMB lab. In 2022, its owner Tracey Latham won the Arizona Small Businessperson of the Year Award. The business specializes in printed circuit board assembly.

She participated in the program in November 2022 and said ASU students and staff helped her streamline her business practices.

Latham estimated ASU helped her save hundreds of dollars per hour from getting help from a consulting company.

Latham Industries has grown since participating in the lab and has moved into a bigger office space. In addition, Latham acquired another company that synchronized music to Christmas lights she said.

ASU is currently helping Latham Industries with a rebranding of that specific company from the logos to which color the product is expected to be, she said.

“The students have gotten me so excited (about the process),” Latham said.
Another company, Modern Grind, was struggling to break even each month before joining the lab, Judd-Shimp said.

“For some, it’s been life-changing,” Judd-Shimp said. “Especially for the small businesses.”

Chaturvedi said he wants to partner with other universities around the world to help build a collective database to help tackle similar problems in business.

...“ Just imagine the value that will be created,” Chaturvedi said.

Kaizink — a print marketing company — got help with a potential expansion as part of the lab.

The team looked at where the “biggest opportunity would be” to open a second location, said Jeff Hale, owner at Kaizink in Phoenix, who started his business in 2009.

The team recommended a second location in College Station, Texas, since next-day deliveries from its vendors were important, he said.

The business owner said he’s built contacts with ASU’s School of Sustainability and the urban planning department at the city of Phoenix.

“It opened us up to the resources,” Hale said.

Latham said the lab helped her to shed some of the many hats she’s worn as a business owner. It was a “welcoming environment” with support and a sense of team.

She said there are times when business owners can feel “lonely” — like it’s up to one person to run the business, she said. But members of the lab has given her a feeling of support, she said.

“It helps you get to the next level,” Latham said.