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How This Small Business of the Year Beat the Odds


  • Paul Isenberg learned many lessons from his adopted family: his mother, a teacher for 40 years; his father, a banker; and his grandfather, best friend and mentor.
  • Although he had enjoyed a very successful career in sales and marketing, Paul’s heart tugged at his passion for teaching and an itch for becoming an entrepreneur.
  • With this background, plus an undergraduate degree in education and an MBA, Paul started an elite child care learning center in his hometown, Bowling Green, KY with his wife, Stacy.
  • Despite the unique skills he acquired and the wisdom his family provided from their careers and experiences, Paul and Stacy ran into major challenges from the start.

How the SBA helped

  • Paul contacted the Small Business Development Center (SBDC), an SBA resource partner, shortly after forming the company.
  • The SBDC assisted Paul and Stacy in developing a plan to fund a new location with SBA loans.
  • Paul still faced many challenges: being a male owner/operator of a child care center, construction issues, cost overruns and more.
  • The SBDC, his SBA lender and mentors guided Paul and Stacy through the start-up phase.
  • The family also overcame personal adversity. Shortly after opening the first location, Stacy was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Paul took care of his young daughter, attended to Stacy’s aggressive treatments and surgeries, and managed the business.

Successful Impact/Outcome

  • The family dealt with financial strain, emotional stress, and physical exhaustion. But Stacy made a full recovery, and they were blessed with twins two years later. Also, the business grew rapidly. 
  • The Isenbergs again used the SBA loan program to purchase a third location in Bowling Green. A fourth location opened a few years later in Louisville, and a rural location will be open soon.
  • Smart Start began with just a few employees. Now there are now over 140, and the company educates 800+ children daily.
  • In just a few years, revenue tripled, and net profit grew almost four-fold.
  • The company has been so successful that Smart Start Child Care was recognized as the 2019 Kentucky Small Business of the Year.
  • Paul said, “The SBDC and the SBA lenders have been crucial to our business success.” He believes that Smart Start Child Care would not have happened without SBA’s help. 
  • The Isenberg family has a strong faith and believes in giving back. They contribute to their church and several child-focused charities, as well as their local park systems.
Company Name: 
Smart Start Child Care, LLC
Bowling Green, KY
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