VALDOSTA — Being an entrepreneur isn’t always easy and everyone does it a little differently.
Some open online stores, while others open brick-and-mortar storefronts.
Some go all in and invest their lives into a new venture, while others start a new business as something to do on the side. Regardless of the type, entrepreneurs help drive the local economy.
Larry Black, owner and dentist at Valdosta Family Dentistry, didn’t begin his career in dentistry until he was in his mid-30s.
At 17, he left Valdosta and joined the Navy for six years.
He worked as an electronic technician doing satellite communications and cryptography.
After leaving the military as an employee, he worked as a civilian contractor for the Navy for six years doing similar work.
The work required Black to travel regularly, and he eventually decided he wanted to settle down.
“We traveled about 11 months out of the year,” he said. “We traveled anywhere the Navy was having trouble with communications equipment. I decided that I was ready to quit traveling and started back to school.”
Being from Valdosta, Black returned to attend Valdosta State University to earn a biology degree.
After three years of undergraduate work and a degree in hand, Black had been introduced to the world of dentistry through Dr. Greg Morris, he said.
So, Black attended the Medical College of Georgia for four years to to become a dentist.
By the time he attended MCG, he was the third oldest student in his cohort. Black said being a non-traditional student was beneficial to him.
“I was one of those people who could not have done and focused on school at 18,” he said. “Part of the reason I went into the Navy was I knew that about myself.
“When I came back from the Navy and started school, it was much easier for me having already had life experience and improved time-management skills. Knowing where I wanted to be and how to get there helped me jump through the hoops or check off the boxes to get there.
“I knew what I wanted and was wiling to work harder for it and put in the time.”
After graduation, Black came back to Valdosta in 2004 and opened his first office, Quitman Family Dentistry in Quitman.
“When I got out and looked at a place to set up my office, there was still plenty of room for more dentists in Valdosta, and having grown up here, I felt that it would be easier to start up a business in my hometown,” he said.
In 2009, Black opened an office in Valdosta.
“When I was working in Quitman Family Dentistry, myself and Dr. Eric Castor felt there would be a need for an emergency dental clinic in Valdosta,” he said. “We spent a year with this office as an emergency-only clinic.”
Based on customer requests, Black expanded to a full-service dentist office in 2010.
After being in practice for almost 15 years, he said the hardest part has been operating the business side.
“Running the business is probably the toughest part of what I do,” he said. “The toughest part for most dentists is we tend to be very technical. We enjoy working with our hands and working with people. And dental school prepares you for all the knowledge you need to do dentistry.
“The tough thing is they don’t prepare you to run a small business. When you come out of school and you have to learn about tax structure and accounting.”
Black said he leaned on his late wife, Dana Black, when he first opened his business.
“I got into it thinking you get out, put your sign on the door and you go to work,” he said.
While he worked with the clients, Dana learned how to run the business for him.
“She was a big part of why we were able to do what we did,” he said.
Dana passed in 2017.
As for advice for new or potential business owners, Black suggests taking a few years to learn about the selected industry. He also recommends utilizing the small business resources available.
“If you are going to open up your own business, understand that business,” he said. “Most people have an idea of what a business is but they haven’t worked in it before. They don’t have an idea of how it works. Take a few years and start from the bottom and work in a few positions.
“Then go and take some accounting classes and business classes either through (Wiregrass Georgia Technical College) or the (University of Georgia Small Business Development Center at Valdosta State University) that’s here in Valdosta because both of those guys helped me out after I got started.”
Valdosta Family Dentistry, 2935 N. Ashley St., Suite 130, is open open 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Quitman Family Dentistry is open Tuesday and Thursday. For more information, call (229) 333-8484.
Jason Smith is a reporter at The Valdosta Daily Times. He can be contacted at 229-244-3400 ext.1257.