More people starting their own businesses

When the clinic that veterinarian Calvin Lum worked for had a management shake-up and he was laid off, he was left wondering what he would do next with his life.

Eventually, he settled on an idea that had been simmering in the back of his mind for years: He started his own business making house calls as a veterinarian. Lum began attending business seminars and hired a business consultant. He recently launched San Francisco Veterinary House Calls.

It turns out Lum’s story is a common one. The San Francisco office of the federal Small Business Administration is reporting a jump in attendance in their workshops and seminars, despite the fact that the economy has been slumping.

In fact, the subpar economy is probably causing the increased interest in entrepreneurship, said Gary Marshall, business development specialist for the SBA.

“As more people get laid off and have a hard time finding work, they think, ‘Well, I’ve always wanted to start a business — why don’t I consider it now?’” Marshall said.

He said it’s particularly unusual to see numbers trending up during the summer, when people tend to be more lackadaisical about job searching and starting new projects. But that’s precisely what the agency has seen: Since May, class sizes have been up 24 percent from last year.

Some of those attendants may be people considering starting a business, while others are existing business owners trying to hone their skills to survive in the droopy economy, said business consultant Simon Hase, a volunteer teacher at one of SBA’s business accounting classes.

“I don’t really survey the classes about who’s been laid off, but anecdotally, I hear it a lot,” Hase said. “People are laid off, but they know their industry and they know how to sell that product. They just need help with accounting marketing, which is why they come to these classes.”

Though it may not be the best of times to start a new business, people who have been recently laid off may have the time and even a little severance money to put toward a new business idea, Marshall said.

In Lum’s case, the current poor economy didn’t factor into his decision much because he felt strongly there was a niche he could fill.

“It is a little scary, opening a business, but I’m not that worried about the marketing aspect of it, even with the economy the way it is,” he said. “Veterinary medicine is somewhat recession-proof — because no matter what happens, you’ve got to take care of your babies.”

kworth@sfexaminer.com

By the numbers

Small businesses in The City …

— Generate $4.5 billion yearly in sales

— Employ approximately 355,000 (more than half of The City’s work force)

— Account for more than 50 percent  of the market share in books, sporting goods and limited service dining

— Account for 44.4 percent of the market share in toys and gifts

— Reinvest in the local economy at a 60 percent higher rate than chain stores and online retailers

Source: San Francisco Locally Owned Merchants Association, San Francisco Small Business Advocates

My story

“I’ve thought about starting a business. I think when people think they might get laid off, they always have an idea develop in the back of their mind, so they’ll be able to take care of their family. But they still need to think it through — make sure it’s viable.”

— Parminder Singh, Daly City, 31

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