Amy Nelson, Sandy Area Chamber of Commerce
Local business and civic leaders pose for a photo at the launch announcement of the KeyBank Business Accelerator Academy on Tuesday, Aug. 28, 2018. KeyBank is partnering with the Sandy Area Chamber of Commerce to sponsor the program. From left to right: Sandy City Councilwoman Brooke Christensen; Greg Summerhays, president & CEO, Sandy Area Chamber of Commerce; Sandy Mayor Kurt Bradburn; Terry Grant, president KeyBank Utah; Debbie Trujillo, KeyBank corporate responsibility officer; Sandy Area Chamber of Commerce Board member Jay Francis; and Sandy City director of Economic Development Nick Duerksen.

SANDY — When Lora Lee Mock started her professional recruiting business, she had the good fortune of knowing enough to get it up and running on her own with little previous entrepreneurial experience.

In fact, she has done so well that she's kept it going and financially prosperous for 41 years.

However, she recently recognized that there was still more she needed to do to "stay relevant" in a technologically advancing business climate that was taking an emotional and mental toll on her.

"I felt like I was getting burned out and tired and bored with my business and my life and needed a refresh," she explained. It was that realization that prompted Mock to enroll in a newly created program aimed at helping established local small businesses reach their greater potential. The decision was reinvigorating, she said.

"I've really looked at my business in a whole different spin and created new positions, new opportunities and new growth that I was (previously) letting sit on the table," she said. The lessons she has learned through the program have helped her business develop in new ways that should be prosperous for years to come, she said.

"(Businesses) need to adapt to what is important in this economy and the world as we know it today," Mock said.

The Sandy Area Chamber of Commerce announced last week the launch of the KeyBank Business Accelerator Academy — a hands-on program for existing business owners that provides knowledge to help them expand their enterprises by creating and managing a customized, three-year strategic growth plan. The program is underwritten through a $120,000 grant from KeyBank to the Sandy Chamber Economic Development Foundation.

As the signature program of the Sandy Chamber Business Institute, the academy provides practical business education, a supportive business network and access to capital and contracting for companies, explained Greg Summerhays, president and CEO of the Sandy Area Chamber of Commerce.

"This really is for existing companies that have been in business for at least two years, to help them to grow," he said. "They have (already) achieved some level of success. We want to now take them to the next level."

The chamber is partnering with education provider Interise to offer a curriculum that is taught by a professional business instructor. The curriculum has helped thousands of companies nationwide increase their annual revenue and create jobs, he said.

“Small businesses are the foundation of our economy and our local business community, yet there are relatively few resources available to help established small business owners learn and connect with each other,” he said. “We are proud to launch a program to help fill this void by offering small business owners courses, mentoring and peer-to-peer learning to help their businesses grow and thrive."

Primarily funded by the KeyBank grant, the academy is run by the Sandy Chamber Economic Development Foundation through the Sandy Chamber Business Institute. Companies apply for entry into the program, Summerhays explained. If selected, they a pay $500 tuition fee but half that money is refunded if they share some data on their experience in the program with the chamber's institute, he added.

“The KeyBank Business Accelerator Academy will give small business owners the knowledge and connections they need to take their businesses to the next level,” said Terry Grant, president of KeyBank’s Utah market. “We are proud to support this important work and look forward to watching program participants implement their growth plans and expand their businesses.”

Launched as a semiannual program, the inaugural cohort includes 20 local businesses owners who attend classes over a 13-week period, Summerhays said. Applications are being accepted for the next session scheduled to begin in January, he added.

"What we hope to do is get the word out more about this (program) and as there is enough demand for this type of program, we can scale it up and grow it to the point where we're serving and meeting the demand of these small businesses," he said.

For online business owner Chris Holt, this program provides the opportunity to get out of his comfort zone behind his desk and learn ways to boost his company's bottom line.

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"I already have a master's in business, but this class forces me to step away from the (day-to-day operations of) my business and think strategically," he said. "There are a lot of things you learn from other business owners like pitfalls and problems they might have already gone through or they have 'out of the box' ideas that I wouldn't think of."

He said being exposed to new ideas and having the ability to network with other entrepreneurs is particularly advantageous to a small business owner.

"It's a great program that anybody can benefit from whether you have been in business for a year or 10 years," he said.