Our Mission

Learn who we are and how we serve our community


Meet our leaders, trustees and team


Developing the next generation of talent


Covering the latest news and trends in the marketplaces industry

Industry Insights

Check out wide-ranging resources that educate and inspire

Government Relations & Public Policy

Learn about the governmental initiatives we support


Connect with other professionals at a local, regional or national event

Virtual Series

Find webinars from industry experts on the latest topics and trends

Professional Development

Grow your skills online, in a class or at an event with expert guidance

Find Members

Access our Member Directory and connect with colleagues

ICSC Networking Platform

Get recommended matches for new business partners

Student Resources

Find tools to support your education and professional development

Become a Member

Learn about how to join ICSC and the benefits of membership

Renew Membership

Stay connected with ICSC and continue to receive membership benefits

Small Business Center

The Power of Data: How SBDCNet Supports Small Business Growth

June 26, 2023

One of the most important things to have when starting or expanding your small business is data. Banks and funders, for example, want to understand the market potential and demand for your products or service. They want to see target market analyses, competitor assessments and industry trends before they agree to invest in your business. And when it comes to deciding where to locate your small business, it helps to understand who your potential customers are and where your competitors are housed.

If you’re not a real estate broker yourself, it can be hard to know where to look for this kind of information. Enter SBDCNet, the official Small Business Administration program that provides the U.S.’s small businesses and Small Business Development Centers with complimentary market research and business resources for site selection and all other aspects of creating, maintaining and growing a business.

In this Q&A, SBDCNet director Matthew Jackson talks to ICSC Small Business Center contributing editor Rebecca Meiser about the support SBDCNet provides, how to get started and how to get the best use out of its services.

Can you start by giving a general overview of what SBDCNet is?

I’ll start with the Small Business Development Center programs themselves. The SBDCs are a nationwide program, funded in part by the U.S. Small Business Administration with federal grants that are hosted by local and state network operators. Their purpose is to assist prospective and existing small business owners by helping them start and grow their businesses, particularly by providing technical business advice, training, market research and other support.

The program that I run is SBDCNet, which stands for the SBDC National Information Clearinghouse. Our program is the official research support arm for the national network of SBDCs. What that means is that we work directly with state and local SBDC advisers who are working on behalf of small business clients. We work with them to provide the kinds of customized market research and other business development resources that small business owners may need to start, fund or grow their businesses.

As a small business owner looking for those market resources, what’s the best way to utilize your services?

There are two ways they can utilize SBDCNet. The first is our public website, which is sbdcnet.org. On our public website, we maintain a number of small business publications, resource guides, industry reports and all kinds of other valuable small business data and information. There are all kinds of articles on the site specific to how to start a business: everything from industry conditions to start-up-cost information to sample business plans. We also have resources like guides on franchising and government contracting and other how-tos like what to do and look for when you’re hiring your first employee or what to do to protect your business from cyberthreats.

Then, in addition to that, on our public website, small business owners can also locate or get connected to their local SBDC office. If they need specific research, SBDC advisers in their community can request even more in-depth and tailored information from us.

Specifically what tailored information can you provide to small business owners as they work with their local SBDC advisers?

We can, for example, provide them with access to in-depth Industry and market information about the sector that they’re in. We can also provide detailed demographic information and consumer spending information so they can understand who their potential customers are, how big that market is for them, as well as what we call our site selection, or [geographic information system], market analyses. If you’re thinking about starting a physical brick-and-mortar business or any service-based business, the location is very critical, so those resources are invaluable.

The SBDC website is expansive. If you were a small business owner, where would you recommend starting?

When you visit sbdcnet.org, the first thing you see on the right-hand side is a Start Your Business Now Help Center box, which is a series of drop-down menus. From there, you can just jump right into a number of those different guides or publications, depending on what it is you’re looking for. Also, from our main home page, we have specific Small Business publication tabs where publications are organized by topics. We also have a great search function. Folks interested in starting a restaurant would be able to search the site for “restaurant,” which returns a variety of restaurant and food service-related publications and resources.

Who writes these guides? Where does the information in them come from?

Our publications are written and published by myself and our team here at sbdcnet.org. We conduct the research for those topics, identifying resources that are authoritative and relevant, and then we work to compile that into our reports. A lot of the topics on the site derive directly from the work we do with SBDC advisers. Because of our relationship with them, we have great visibility on the kinds of questions people are asking and the kinds of businesses folks are looking to start. That helps inform the kinds of industries and research we might publish on our public website. Of course, the information needs of small businesses are always evolving and changing. Think about regulatory changes or the circumstances of the pandemic. We’re always also trying to keep an eye out for emerging trends that small businesses need to know about. For example, we’ve seen a lot of interest in and discussion in the news about artificial intelligence and its various applications, so at the beginning of this year, we published and launched a whole AI for Small Business guide. It’s designed specifically for small owners who have heard a lot about AI but were wondering how it might be helpful for them as a small business.

What’s the cost of these services?

It’s free, except we don’t call it free. We say it’s “no cost” because sometimes people have an assumption that when something is free, the quality maybe isn’t as great or there’s some kind of hook or gotcha moment waiting. But all of the nationwide SBDC programs, as well as SBDCNet, are funded by the U.S. Small Business Administration, which provides federal grants for the SBDCs to operate, and then state centers and their state legislatures or other bodies provide grant funding and support to SBDCs, as well.

You are in the thick of small business, every day, writing resource guides and how-to articles for small businesses. What is something a lot of entrepreneurs don’t think about when starting a business that they should think about?

Doing your homework. Oftentimes, someone who starts a business is doing so out of a passion, or they saw a problem and they didn’t like how others were solving it so they sought to provide a better solution. But they might not know everything about how to actually run a business. Say, for example, with a restaurant: You might be an excellent cook and you might love cooking, but you might not know much about how to manage your costs, how to hire employees, how to attract customers and all these different kinds of things. So when I say “do your homework,” it’s that idea of thinking through and finding research and information that can help you organize your thoughts around how you actually pursue that passion in a successful way as a small business. There are a lot of different statistics out there about the failure rates of small businesses within one year and five years. I often think that the vast majority of [those failures are] a result of folks having not done their homework, of not having investigated these things or not having asked questions from whoever may be in their network that can help them. You don’t know what you don’t know, right?

Do you have success stories of entrepreneurs using SBDCNet resources?

While it’s really the SBDC programs as a whole that are working with folks, we certainly on regular occasions hear back from the small business or the SBDC advisers, telling us how meaningful our information was. We’ve had stories about how our data made small business owners realize that they needed to pivot and hadn’t realized it before or how a small business owner used the info we gave them to refine their business model or prepare for a lease negotiation or get a loan. We hear a lot of those wonderful things. The SBDCNet program, specifically, has in our 25 years of operation completed over 110,000 projects for individual small businesses. That’s something we’re very proud of but also really speaks to the expertise that we’re able to provide.

By Rebecca Meiser

Contributor, Commerce + Communities Today and Small Business Center

Small Business Center

ICSC champions small and emerging businesses in getting from business plan to brick-and-mortar.

Learn more