Bethany Keener
Wednesday, July 5, 2006

ALAMOSA, Colo. (Mennonite Mission Network) — In his workplace, Robert Bunn felt like just another cog in a low-paying machine. But Bunn thought he was different. He had an idea for way to use computers to find the cheapest way to manufacture organic molecules.

He just needed a plan.

This year, Bunn's business plan caught the attention of investors willing to put $5 million into the computational chemistry software he invented.

Bunn, who developed his invention while working for slightly over the minimum wage for a local Internet service provider, said he knew he’d get this far eventually, but help from Mennonite Voluntary Service (MVS) participant Chris Meyer jump-started the process. Meyer serves at Adams State College Business Support Center, providing free consultation to San Luis Valley residents who own or hope to start their own businesses.

Increasing the economic development of the area means residents have more control of their finances and futures, which improves the standard of living. Applying ethics to his business knowledge helps Meyer connect the marketplace with his faith in response to Jesus’ call to work for social justice.

Scott Siemens, MVS director, said North Americans should recognize that their society revolves around economics, which can be used either to empower or to oppress people. He believes Christians should be proactive in sharing their faith in the business community because “social and economic injustice won’t get changed exclusively by protests in the street.”

Meyer said through this involvement, Christians can “truly embody the concept of compassion and effectively work toward shalom.”

The business support center provides workshops and classes to help business owners succeed. Free consultation helps people like Bunn write business plans and connect with other local experts. In a world where it takes money to make money, Meyer said, a blueprint for how the business will operate is essential to finding lenders. Mary Hoffman, Meyer’s supervisor, hopes the support center services will help clients make an educated decision about whether to start a business or work for someone else.

“I’m entirely a scientist,” Bunn said. “My business knowledge is limited and I didn’t know what direction to go. That’s why I went to see Chris.” 
 
Meyer worked on Bunn’s business plan and helped him brainstorm ideas for marketing his product. Then Meyer recommended a local business consultant who was able to connect Bunn with investors who made his business, SysChem, viable.

Bunn’s success isn’t typical. In the San Luis Valley, where most of Meyer’s clients are from, unemployment is high and income is low. Hoffman said options are limited for young adults in the area. Many either work at low-paying service jobs or move to urban areas to look for employment.

Meyer’s goal is to help clients become “financially independent through their own skills and ingenuity.” But not everyone who approaches the support center leaves with an independent business.

In his time there, Meyer has helped several individuals start their own business and guided owners of exisiting businesses past various problems. He has worked with owners of restaurants, plumbers, auto shops, coffee shops and music stores. Some have gone forward with their plans. Others have decided that their ideas, or the prevailing markets, were not right for their ventures. Meyer said both results are acceptable.

“It’s better to have someone decide that than to have them get into the business and have it fail,” he said.

While Meyer works with individuals, he also is concerned about the bigger picture.

“Business, specifically big business, is inseparable from politics because business has a hand in most government policy and unparalleled representation by both elected representatives and appointed officials,” he said.

Meyer thinks “government policy is often influenced in a way that helps large companies become more profitable, while causing negative social and environmental outcomes.”

He cites reduced regulations on pollution, tax breaks for large corporations and minimum wage requirements that haven’t risen with inflation as sources of social injustice.

“In our business counseling and classes we teach social responsibility through responsible business practices,” Hoffman said. Meyer sees this responsibility carried out in small businesses because the local customer base holds owners accountable.

To Bunn, SysChem is more than just making it financially. He worked in several large corporations where he felt his creativity was stifled.

“It’s a very unsatisfying life … [when] you’re just a cog in the machine,” Bunn said. “I would encourage everybody to do what they like and if they can make it into a full-time job they’ll be much happier in the end.”

Meyer is a member of Scottdale (Pa.) Mennonite Church and attends First Mennonite Church in Sugarcreek, Ohio. He attended Goshen (Ind.) College.

 

 

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