Written by Corinne Garcia Friday, November 11 2011Snapshot: Helena Hauk, founder, 5th Gear Consulting
From the moment Helena Hauk was introduced to the world of small business, volunteering at her local chamber of commerce by age 14, she was hooked. Destined to be a business owner herself, she went on to start San Antonio-based 5th Gear Consulting, helping other small businesses secure Small Business Administration (SBA) loans and navigate commercial real estate lending to help them put their dreams into high gear.
Womenetics: What inspired you to start 5th Gear Consulting?
Helena Hauk: I have always had a desire to become a business owner; there was just a fire burning inside me as a natural self-starter. Throughout my employment I had always helped others with business guidance of all sorts and seemed to actually have a knack for it. I enjoyed being a resource for people and learned about harnessing that skill and expanding upon it in my own business.
But opportunity is much different from inspiration, and I experienced an opportunity that led to being able to finally start my business. Three years before launching 5th Gear, I was serving as a business development officer for a certified development corporation (CDC) based out of Austin, specializing in the SBA 504 loan program. This is a federal government financing tool that focuses on real estate and heavy equipment financing for small business owners.
I was pretty good at facilitating this capital source for small business owners and lenders, and I was recruited to work with another CDC based in San Antonio. That offer provided the opportunity to work with that CDC as an independent contractor and start my own company. Navigating the world of finance, federal programs, and commercial real estate are all very complex on their own, but I really enjoy the different segments. And business owners need a lot of help in these areas. I enjoy being a significant resource, allowing them to continue to grow, expand, and realize their dreams.
Womenetics: Can you explain the business model?
Hauk: We’re very hands on and take more of a hospitality approach to business versus the bureaucratic approach that most similar businesses tend to do. We know that every business and every situation is unique so we tailor our interaction and process to suit each client. Of course, there is a basic standardization internally, but clients receive their very own experience. We have built our business organically and primarily receive referrals and do a one-on-one approach to marketing.
Womenetics: Can you explain the inspiration behind the business name?
Hauk: I had been planning to start my own consulting firm and was working through a lot of components, some with the help of think tanks. The main think tank included seven people. We put several names on a white board and started discussing the meaning behind the names, what they conveyed, how they felt, and so on.
The more I thought about 5th Gear and spread the word, the more I liked it and the more positive feedback I received. Then we found that the Google search and domain search showed it was available. Our tagline is "Taking small business into overdrive."
Womenetics: How did you become proficient in small business consulting?
Hauk: Years of working with them through chambers of commerce, private clubs, and CDCs. I began volunteering at a chamber of commerce when I was 14 years old and fell in love with the business world and the resource network that can be built with the right partners. I found a desire to become one of those resource partners.
Womenetics: What’s a common financial mistake that you see small businesses commonly making?
Hauk: I think there are a couple of areas where common mistakes are made, primarily in the area of planning. Proper planning can help a business navigate and potentially avoid major challenges. This includes preserving cash for working capital.
Womenetics: What kind of general advice do you offer small businesses in today’s economic climate? Anything different than before the real estate crisis?
Hauk: Be honest with yourself about where you are in your business cycle and life cycle, including your strengths and weaknesses. Oftentimes business owners are eager to grow and are riding a wave of success. This is where planning comes in handy once again. Just because a business is experiencing success does not always mean they need to expand right away. More often than not, I am deterring prospective entrepreneurs from starting until they have all of their resources together or business owners who are leasing from buying. There are always going to be opportunities surrounding successful business people, but the key is to recognize the right opportunities.
Womenetics: Why is small business important for the community?
Hauk: How is small business not important? Small businesses are the backbone of our economy and communities. Every year, the U.S. Small Business Administration honors small business in National Small Business Week. The best stats and stories of success are highlighted during this week. For example, in 2011, between 60 and 80 percent of all new jobs were created by small business.
When big business was failing left and right in the fallout over the past few years, laying off hundreds of people per company, small businesses were picking up the pieces. Additionally, a huge uprising of entrepreneurs has stemmed from the downturn. Beyond jobs, small businesses are the ones who actually get involved in their communities and give back by getting involved in local chambers of commerce and other business and trade organizations. When schools are doing local drives for school supplies, mentors, and so on, small businesses are more likely to be involved than big business. It ends up being a full evolution of a community that is benefited by the small business.
Womenetics: You have been recognized as one of the top female business leaders in Texas. To what do you attribute your success?
Hauk: I was raised in a loving a supportive family. My parents kept us active, engaged, and always looking ahead as were growing up. I understood from a young age what success looked like from hard work and dedication, and I continued to foster that into my career. I had my first job at 13, so I was instilled with a strong work ethic at a very young age.
I continue to be surrounded by a loving and supportive family, including my professional network and friends who continue to keep me inspired. Additionally, I was active in 4-H and Future Farmers of America throughout high school, which added to my goal orientation.
Womenetics: Do you have any business mentors?
Hauk: The first person outside my family who mentored and pushed me to be my best was my ag teacher in high school, Jona Kay Squires. Her push led to state and national public speaking and marketing presentation honors. When I went off to college, my first boss, Ken Davenport, was a true mentor. Locally, in San Antonio, I serve on a board with several amazing women in Commercial Real Estate Women (CREW). There are several who continue to blow me away with building their businesses, raising families, serving on boards, giving back to the community, and sticking with it day in and day out. There are a few women on the national board for the CREW Network that I also watch closely, but do not have a formal relationship with.
Womenetics: Any advice for female business owners in particular?
Hauk: Never underestimate yourself and when others do, blow them away!
Womenetics: And last, do you take time for yourself and if so, what do you do?
Hauk: I have not been known for taking a lot of time for myself. However, since I’ve been married and now have someone very close to me, it helps me to remember to recharge and release stress. So, I make it more of a priority. I think it is very important to incorporate as much of a balance into your life as you can.
I enjoy reading and vacations. My husband and I just vacationed about two weeks ago to Whidbey Island, Wash., where I fell in love with the area and the people (I met his family for the first time). My husband and I very much enjoy food; I guess we are kind of "foodies." He’s usually experimenting with some new creation, most recently, gelato (Italian ice cream). Now I’m hooked. I also I have an interest in painting, and I’m looking forward to exploring that more soon.
Corinne Garcia is a freelance writer and editor living with her husband and two young boys in Bozeman, Mont. She has also written for Women’s Adventure, Christian Science Monitor, Northwest Travel, Pregnancy, Fit Pregnancy, and Fit Parent.