Sara Bennett

Sara Bennett was named the Rural Enterprise Assistance Project 2017 Friend of the Year. The award is presented annually to an individual, organization or institution that provides invaluable service to entrepreneurs by assisting REAP staff in offering technical assistance, business training, loans, and networking across rural Nebraska. (Independent/Zach Mayhew)

Sara Bennett of Grand Island is the REAP 2017 Friend of the Year. REAP stands for Rural Enterprise Assistance Project, which operates under the Center for Rural Affairs of Lyons.

Bennett will receive the honor March 9 in Red Cloud.

The REAP Friend of the Year Award goes each year to an individual, organization or institution that provides invaluable service to entrepreneurs by assisting REAP staff in offering technical help, business training, loans and networking across rural Nebraska.

Bennett is the associate director of the Nebraska Business Development Center (NBDC), a business consultant, certified valuations analyst and certified exit planning adviser. She has been serving small businesses in central Nebraska for more than seven years in Grand Island and Kearney.

“Sara seeks out REAP for training and assistance for her clients, as well as financing when she sees a need,” said Dena Beck, REAP senior project leader and south-central loan specialist with the Center for Rural Affairs.

Bennett said she is “humbled by the fact that the folks at REAP thought of me enough to recognize me for the award.”

“It is truly an honor,” she said.

Bennett, a Grand Island native, graduated from Grand Island Senior High School in 2007. She has a bachelor’s degree in business administration with an emphasis in accounting and management. She also has an MBA.

Bennett said she got interested in a career in business while working at Sun Dance Seed and Feed when she was in high school.

“It was a family-owned business, and I saw things from a different perspective,” she said. “I liked the numbers and the business side of things.”

She started with NBDC as an undergraduate at UNK in 2009.

Bennett said the satisfaction she gets from her job is helping others realize the dream of having their own business. She said it the whole process that is awarding from working with someone who has an idea for a business and seeing that idea through as an actual business and then following through as they operate their business.

“It is fulling to see them be successful,” Bennett said.

Bennett partners with REAP for small business development.

NBDC helps strengthen state businesses for a healthy economy and prosperous communities. Certified consultants such as Bennett provide confidential, impartial services and educational opportunities for established and start-up businesses, researchers, entrepreneurs and professionals.

“We focus on businesses to help them start, grow and succeed,” she said.

NBDC has officers in nine locations across the state. Her center is part of the University of Nebraska at Kearney. Bennett’s office is at the Grand Island Chamber of Commerce office, and opened in 2011.

“Our role is to work with business owners who are getting started,” Bennett said. “We help them navigate through the various steps, whether it is helping them find financing, developing a business plan working with them after they are established with management assistance or cash flow planning.”

Beck said Bennett is a “great resource” for their businesses, and assists them with preparing for Small Business Administration (SBA) Guaranteed Loan applications and market research.

“Also, she helps them understand industry standards for their businesses,” Beck said.

Bennett also provides succession planning and business valuations. Beck said that is a needed service to aging business owners in Nebraska.

The host institution for NBDC is the University of Nebraska at Omaha.

Potential clients who want to start a business first visit with Bennett. She then discusses both the pros and cons they should consider when starting a business, such as location or start-up cost and ongoing operational costs. Her services play an important role as small businesses continue to be the backbone of state and local economies.

Last year, she helped small businesses create 137 new jobs.

Last November, Bennett’s job description changed to associate director. In her new role, she will work with small businesses and researchers to identify opportunities to pursue funding through the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and the Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs. Most of her clients are start-up business in the retail sector, most of which employ 75 people or less.

“I will be focused on expanding outreach and awareness of the program to researchers and women-owned businesses in Central and Western Nebraska,” Bennett said.

Bennett helped put in place the Grand Island Small Business Resource Team, a group of area business resources, to better assist entrepreneurs and business owners in the area. Last year, Bennett was successful in helping Grand Island native Nick Papke start Bearded Buffalo Golf, 217 E. Stolley Rd., at the Silver Wood Plaza.

The business is an indoor golf facility with three golf simulators.

Griselda Rendon, a Latino loan specialist with the Center for Rural Affairs, said Bennett has been involved with REAP Women’s Business Center training. She is an outstanding referral source.

”Sara makes herself available if questions come up and are always willing to assist and provide additional resources to meet our clients’ needs,” Rendon said.

For more information, contact Bennett at (308) 382-9210. For more information about NBDC, visit its website at nbdc.unomaha.edu.

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