Q&A with Janis Mueller, new Regional Director of the SBDC at Kettering University

Janis Mueller is the new Regional Director of the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) at Kettering University. The SBDC provides members of the community and Kettering students no-cost counseling, training, tools and planning assistance for new ventures and existing small businesses. Mueller participated in a Q&A to introduce herself and the services that her office can provide Kettering students and the greater Flint community.

How did you first get involved in Small Business Development work?

I have a varied career path which led me to Small Business Development work. As a native of Detroit, I grew up in a family business and knew at an early age that I wanted to be involved in small business. My degree from Eastern Michigan University is in International Business (German and Marketing) and this education allowed me to have a varied career path. I have worked in a variety of industries (International Trade, Construction, Heavy Equipment Dealership, National Franchise Educational Support, and Consulting) in a number of capacities as an employee (Customer Service, Management, Operations, Bookkeeping and Finance, Sales, Growth and Strategy) and as an entrepreneur.  All of my work experience has been in the realm of small business.

Being a small business owner was a crowning achievement in my career path. I learned how to use my knowledge to create and grow an idea into a sustainable venture that was profitable.

Janis Mueller SBDCI learned by trial and error and quickly determined that planning was critical to success. My transition to Small Business Development occurred when I sought a position where I could utilize the skills I had developed and the knowledge I acquired, to help other businesses succeed and become sustainable. I began working with the Small Business Technology Development Center in North Carolina in 2010. I saw it as a perfect opportunity to assist businesses struggling from the recession to improve their skills, learn to manage the many facets of business and position them toward long term success.

I found the job was a perfect match for my career goals and my desire to share my knowledge to make a lasting difference in the community. I could educate, train, consult and mentor business owners and managers to make a positive difference in their business while aiding the community and region by producing positive economic impact.

My move to Kettering University is the continuation of this journey. As Regional Director of the Michigan Small Business Development Center, I have fulfilled my quest to return to Michigan, while maintaining the focus to assist small business to sustain our community.

What strategy and initiatives are you planning on bringing from your previous position in North Carolina to your current one in Michigan?

I want to continue the excellent work of the team with a focus on more collaboration with the resource partners in the community and region. This collaborative effort is the only way we can truly create an entrepreneurial ecosystem. Our region is the I-69 Trade Corridor which covers Shiawassee, Genesee, Lapeer, St. Clair, Sanilac, Huron, and Tuscola Counties. This vast geographic area has unique opportunities for economic development and growth.

Leveraging the strength of Kettering University and its faculty, staff and students is crucial to engagement across the region. Not only do I intend to reach across the University to share our resources but will rely on their expertise to engage the business community as well. Additionally, I’d like to fully engage the small businesses and entrepreneurs in the region with the many resources available to them. This region is rich in support and collaboration is critical for the success of the small businesses with whom we work. We all need to work together to support the entrepreneurs and small businesses in the region.  

Some initiatives that I worked on in North Carolina included The Learning Alliance which is a “live case analysis and consulting project” for MBA students that were partnered with our active clients. I would like to see more of this type of work and have already had conversations with Dean of the School of Management Michael Smith for potential application with Kettering University. We already work with undergraduate students on Entrepreneurship/Innovation Thesis Committees but want to see this type of student and business collaboration expanded across the various departments.

What is your larger vision for the SBDC at Kettering University?   

My larger vision of the Small Business Development Center at Kettering is having a collaborative and engaged relationship with the University at all levels. I envision the SBDC working with students to engage them in working to grow businesses, driving the business success while increasing the knowledge and experience of the students.  

Collectively, Kettering University and MI-SBDC enhance small business success, help small businesses launch, grow, transition, and innovate by focusing on collaboration, community,  teamwork and accountability. As a private institute, Kettering is uniquely poised to drive innovation and entrepreneurial leadership in the region. The collaboration across the region is bolstered by both organizations and will lead to strong economic growth in the region. This collaboration will lead to sustainable ecosystems for business success.  

How do you see the relationship between Kettering University and SBDC evolving under your leadership?  

The relationship between the two organizations is strong and my efforts will be to further them by being fully engaged across all departments. Our efforts must be synergistic, expansive and collaborative to fully benefit the community. I plan to reach out to meet faculty and staff at all levels of the University to share our services and expand my own knowledge base. This will provide opportunity for engagement and collaboration. This in turn will drive business start-ups, growth and economic impact in the community and region. And these businesses will rely on MI-SBDC and Kettering University to enhance and expand their business and innovation in the future.

How do you hope to catalyze entrepreneurship and the growth of businesses in Flint?  

Igniting the entrepreneurial flame in Flint will continue to be a focus of the MI-SBDC team. We already work with a variety of resources to support, educate, train and counsel potential businesses but our efforts moving forward will include more trainings across the region and greater collaboration with all resource partners and organizations. We are in the process of adapting our trainings to include asynchronous online classes so clients can access the resources at their convenience.  

Working one-on-one with business owners and start-ups is a major focus of our organization, and allows us to propel the business toward success. We work with these clients on marketing, operations, sales, financial and expansion needs. We work with a variety of funding sources to help the businesses obtain necessary capital to start and grow.

The resources available to business owners and entrepreneurs in the Flint area are vast. I am actively engaging them to make introductions, learn of their resources and discussing collaboration of efforts for the success in the area.

How can undergraduate students best utilize the services offered by SBDC?

Utilization of services depends on the need of the student. We have students in various stages of business from idea, startup and existing businesses.  As you can imagine, the needs are varied and so too are the services we can provide. The MI-SBDC provides the following services:

• Business and marketing plan development
• Business workshops (fundamentals to advanced, classroom and online)
• Accessing capital
• Financial management
• Market research
• Strategic planning
• Export strategy
• Technology commercialization

The services of the Small Business Development Center are a no-fee service. Our offices are on the 5th Floor of Campus Center and are open 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday.  

Our office phone is 810-762-9660. Click here to visit our website.