Mentor Moment: Clint Koble, SBDC Business Counselor

Clint Koble loves rural America and its small communities. As Northern Nevada’s SBDC Rural Business Counselor, he spends nearly all his time there. From Elko to Battle Mountain to Lovelock and south to Carson, Minden, Gardnerville and Yerington, you’ll find Clint on the move, meeting with small businesses and entrepreneurs. SBDC provides free and confidential business counseling to new and existing small businesses.

“I enjoy helping someone chase their dreams,” he says. “I like to be positive and reinforcing, and at the same time, it’s my job to be brutally honest. I have to tell them that their plan may not work. And I have to help them develop contingency plans in case that happens.”
Clint is adamant about the importance of rural America to the fabric of our economy.
“Two percent of our population grows food for the other 98%,” he points out. “Our fresh water, food, fiber, minerals, energy sources, and major transportation links are all located in these rural areas. Yet only 16% of the country’s population lives there, the lowest amount in history.” As anyone who has traveled through these small towns has observed, the loss of population has led to a decline in local businesses. Those that survive are challenged by the tremendous pace of technology-driven change.
Clint was born and raised in north central North Dakota, the second oldest of seven siblings. He lived on a 2,000-acre family farm with row crops and hay, as well as beef and dairy herds.
“I developed the value system that I have today from my upbringing. I learned the importance of the family unit, of working together, and having a strong work ethic.”
After college, he found his way into the fitness club industry and then into the resort and hospitality sector. But his heart remained in small town America, and he eventually returned. He worked for the Nevada Rural Development Council, a non-profit focused on economic development, and then was appointed to head up Nevada’s office of the Nevada Farm Services Agency of the USDA. There he helped implement and enforce farm bills and programs, and worked closely with farmers, ranchers and Tribes.
“Rural America is under a lot of stress,” Clint explains. “We have to keep reinvesting in these communities. There’s so much change right now.”
He cites Winnemucca as an interesting example of a small, rural community that is rising to the challenge.
“It’s a town that wants to protect its future, and it’s a community willing to invest. Winnemucca is normally dependent on mining, but they just built a brand-new Boys and Girls club, did a $50 million-dollar expansion to their hospital, and recently added a large new hotel and casino. They’ve also embraced the arts, education and the environment. It’s a well-balanced community, with a large number of dedicated, community-driven, well-trained, and well-educated people. Even though their population is less than 8,000, they’re thinking about, worrying about, and planning for their future.”
Clint believes that community pride and entrepreneurship is key to the future of small towns.
“These are communities that deal in trust, in face-to-face interactions. A handshake and a smiling face still mean a lot,” he observes. “There’s still opportunity for locally-owned and operated businesses.”
With the improving economy, Clint has seen more lending to small businesses, but financing can be a challenge in rural Nevada.
“Businesses that are related to agriculture and mining can stillfind access to capital. So do service businesses that support those industries, such as companies who provide heavy equipment and tools, or skilled labor such as welders and mechanics. We’re also seeing increasing investments in indoor ag and hydroponics.”
Clint is encouraged by meeting a lot of young Nevadans with “entrepreneurship in their DNA.”
“They see the world as they want it, not as it’s been seen, and they have big imaginations. They can be experts in a moment’s notice–they can get so much information online. They have access to templates for business plans and cash flow statements. The people I meet with now are more well-read and their plans are better researched today, compared to 5-10 years ago.”
He cited a recent meeting with an aspiring bakery owner who had extensive experience in the industry, and presented him with strong business plan.
After their first meeting, Clint assigned her to do more detailed research on her competition, produce a monthly profit and loss statement, and plan more for operating capital. He’s optimistic about her chances because of her experience and knowledge, as well as her commitment.
“She’s willing to do whatever it takes, including waiting until she’s better prepared,” he notes. “Many aspiring business owners don’t seek help with their plan until they’ve made critical decisions, like signing a lease or cashing out their retirement account. That is usually the kiss of death.”
“I like to be positive, and if they are doing what they need to do, I’ll be their biggest cheerleader,” he says. “But I’m also willing to be brutally honest to save them from themselves.”

Free and confidential counseling from the NV SBDC is available with Clint on alternating Tuesdays at Adams Hub, 8:30 AM to 3:30 PM. He can help business owners improve the performance of existing businesses as well as guide an aspiring entrepreneur through the creation of a full business plan.

Interested in SBDC counseling? Contact the Nevada Small Business Development Center at www.nsbdc.org, and on the home page, click on “request counseling,” answer a few questions about the business, and you’ll be contacted within 24-48 hours to set up your session.

June Mentor of the Month: Karol Hines

Karol Hines has spent five years as a volunteer supporting the development and growth of the entrepreneurial community in Northern Nevada. Today, she serves as the Executive Director of Entrepreneurs Assembly. (EA) In addition to serving as a volunteer with EA, she was a board member of both NCET and Entrepreneurship Nevada, curated the Reno/Tahoe Digest, and participated as a preliminary judge in several Sontag Plan competitions and as a final judge for the Governors Cup Business Plan competition. Karol’s professional career, spanning over thirty years in New York and Silicon Valley, included technical leadership and executive management positions in several startup companies. We are proud to call Karol our June Mentor of the Month!

How did you get involved with Entrepreneurs Assembly?

Coming out of retirement after moving to Reno from the Bay Area, I decided that I wanted to work with small companies and startups to help them get started, grow, prosper and lift the economy. Through a lot of –something I love to do–I ended up on the Board of Directors of Entrepreneurship Nevada and NCET (Nevada Center for Entrepreneurship and Technology). Somewhere along the way, I had the opportunity to take a shortened version of Matt Westfield and Rod Hosilyck’s seminar on starting a business. This is the now the Jumpstart class they teach at UNR. It was during that time that I found out about the Entrepreneurs Assembly Startup Incubator (EASI) workshops. From the first time I attended an EASI workshop on a Saturday morning in February 2013 as a mentor, I knew I had found a place where I could use my extensive experience with startup companies in the tech world of Silicon Valley to help aspiring entrepreneurs and participate in a meaningful way to help boost the economy of Northern Nevada.
 
What unique perspectives does a female mentor bring to the table?
        
For my entire life, I have been surrounded by males. I was a “tomboy” growing up with four brothers.  When I was very young, my dolls, dress-up clothes and other girlie play things sat on the shelf while I negotiated with my brothers to play with their trucks, bikes and such. It wasn’t until well into my career as VP of Development for a rapidly growing software company in Silicon Valley that I realized my career was in jeopardy because of bias and perhaps jealousy from newly hired senior executives, all male. I tried to play the game without realizing that they were not threatened by my superior ability to execute, but just did not want a woman in the board room. I learned that women need to work together, play the game a bit differently, teach each other the rules and choose the right mentors that will help them embrace their unique qualities, skills and perspective.

How would you describe your style?

My mentoring style is much like the management style I used with my employees and the style I used as a management consultant with my clients. I am a coach. Rather than telling people the “answers” when they often don’t even know what questions to ask, I will often ask questions to help lead them to reveal what they didn’t realize they knew and or realize what they don’t know. That sounds a bit circuitous, I know.  But sometimes that is just the point. It’s like a mining expedition to help people find that vein of precious metal, that spark, that passion in them that will allow them to believe in themselves and be willing to take on the risks necessary to start and build a business.

Tell us an interesting fact about yourself!

Whenever I need to get in touch with who I really am, I go fly a glider or tell stories about my career as a nationally ranked competition glider pilot. I had always wanted to learn to fly–be a pilot. But the twists and turns of life, including my career, kept veering me off that course. When the opportunity came to take an introductory flight at Sky Sailing in Fremont, CA, it coincided with having fewer personal obligations and time commitments. Within a year, I had soloed, gotten my license and bought my first glider. It wasn’t long before I reached out to find accomplished glider pilots (all male, of course) to mentor me to start flying longer distances away from the home airport–we call it cross-country flying. Flying in small local events led to first managing and then flying in Regional and National competitions. My “mentors” remained my friends, but they became my competitors, so were not so much mentors any longer, even though most of them were always above me on the scoresheet. This was another lesson of how lonely it can be for an accomplished woman in any business, sport or other endeavor that’s dominated by males.

I found my passion on that first flight in Fremont and it really did change my life. The ability to pursue that passion with just my own drive and skills to rely on was very freeing. The confidence I gained from pushing myself to complete a flying “task”, getting myself into and out of trouble, trusting myself to make decisions quickly, not deriding myself if the decision turned out to not be the best and using the information gained to make the next decision, carried over to all other aspects of my life.

When I work with entrepreneurs, particularly women, I try to discover both their deep-seated passions and their insecurities. It’s more difficult, at least for me, to get men to reveal their insecurities. I find women often are more forthcoming about their insecurities with other women. If they can get to that point and find the magic that turns those insecurities into strengths, that’s when I get…well, I have to be clear with myself that I am helping them soar and hold back from soaring myself!