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Little-known support group offers connections, advice
By Jim Kendall | Daily Herald Columnist
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Published: 8/5/2010 12:01 AM

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Neither the name - Center for Business Education, Innovation and Development - nor the acronym - CBEID - rolls easily off the tongue. And other than the approximately 20 people who serve as resources - called Founders on the website - not many people know about it.

But if you own or are thinking about starting up a small business, finding CBEID could be worth the effort: The organization has an almost paternalistic attitude toward small businesses in the Fox Valley area.

What CBEID offers, says Ernest Mahaffey, are mentoring and connections, the type of have-you-considered or I-know-someone assistance that can be invaluable. Mahaffey, a Geneva-based retired business executive, is the primary force behind CBEID.

Donald Cummings, another CBEID Founder and principal of Blue Haven Capital, Geneva, likens the group's role to "board-level support and direction. What I bring to the table are connections. I know an awful lot of people."

Connections matter. At Green Light Industries, Inc., a West Chicago tech startup, the relationship with CBEID is "pretty casual," says Chief Operating Officer Joe Zlotnicki.

"We call them periodically. They listen and give feedback - and put us in contact with a range of people," Zlotnicki said.

Vic Portincaso's story is illustrative. Since March vice president and part owner of Boss Automotive, Inc., an Elgin auto repair and restoration shop, Portincaso got to know Mahaffey when both worked on a sister-city project.

Laid off from Lisle-headquartered Molex, Portincaso was "talking with Ernie about how to reinvent myself. He had told me about CBEID.

"We had a lot of conversations about what type of business I wanted. He was a mentor."

Among Mahaffey's advice, offered informally and, in keeping with CBEID's commitment, at no charge:

* Look for a business where people come to you for what they need.

* Make sure you're in a business that's not competing with big corporations.

* Be certain the business will support you. Pay attention to cash flow.

* Look for an existing business rather than building one from scratch.

* Choose an attorney and accountant who have small business experience.

"My son is an auto mechanic," Portincaso says, "so I researched the auto repair business." What Portincaso found was opportunity.

"It's a service people need," he says. "Every household has at least two cars. A lot of dealerships and small repair shops have closed up. The work can never be outsourced overseas. The business model made sense."

Mahaffey introduced Portincaso to Harriet Parker, a CBEID Founder and director of the Illinois Small Business Development Center at Waubonsee Community College, Aurora. The Parker-SBDC connection helped Portincaso through the business and financial plan minefields.

You can find CBEID at An e-mail to Mahaffey,, is probably better.

Questions, comments to Jim Kendall,

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