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Start your own business: GCC offering classes to assist entreprenuers

By Philip Anselmo

Beginning this January, Genesee Community College will host a pair of related courses for three successive semesters on "Exploring Business Opportunities" and "Entrepreneurship." Associate Professor Barbara Shine welcomes innovators large and small. If you've got the sure-fire idea for the next big thing, you're welcome. If you're not sure what you want to do, but you know you've got the gumption, you're welcome, too.

As for the best news: it's free, and anyone can attend the courses. College students. Retirees. Workers. Anyone. Just be sure to get your application in by January 15 to be considered for this coming semester. (Scroll down to the end of the post for all the details).

Earlier this week, we took a moment to sit down and chat with Barbara Shine, to pick her brain a bit about what it takes to build a successful business. Here's what she had to say:

The Batavian: Much has been made in advance of the courses about the rough economy and this being, in fact, a great time for entrepreneurs. In the press release sent out by the college, for example, we read: "With the unemployment rate at 6.5% and expected to climb higher, entrepreneurs and energetic American inventors and innovators are an essential element in the recovery of the nation's economy." Can you explain why that is the case?

Barb Shine: Well, we know, because of the employment world, that small businesses hire more people than the total who work for large corporations. That's where the opportunities are. We as entrepreneurial educators need to remind folks from an economic standpoint that it's the small businesses that raise the opportunities to support our communities from an economic standpoint. However, small businesses may have a poor track record of staying in business for a long time. But that is where we as educators can help out. There are a lot of places for entrepreneurs to get education.

What advice might you have for folks who may be considering going into business for themselves? What should they consider at the outset?

First, you need to verify that the market is interested in your concept. I call them concepts. You need to do market research. Find out what alternatives are out there for a consumer. Find out how does your product differentiate itself. Those questions need to be answered. Also, the market has to be big enough to be profitable for the individual. So you look at marketing, first, then financial feasibility, then operations.

One of the beauties of the course is that we will tell people what's out there, what the market will bear from a trend standpoint. People need to understand that (doing) what we're passionate about and making it work in the marketplace can be two different things.

An entrepreneur needs to always be looking out for the next best thing. You do this by social networking, reading the magazines, looking at the competition—and not necessarily the logical competitors. Who would have thought that the customer service style for Disney would work in a bank? In fact, Disney sells their customer service package to large financial institutions.

What will each class entail? Do people need to attend both? Can they attend one and not the other?

In the first class, "Exploring Business Opportunities," the questions that should get answered include: Do I have the right concept that the market would be interested in? Am I passionate enough? Because it requires lots of energy, time, money. Do I have what it takes? What do I need to think about from marketing, operations and financial standpoints? Then we need to verify that there is a market, make sure there is enough of a popoluation and buyers.

In the second class, "Entrepreneurship," we will put a plan together. This class qualifies the details of what I need to do to make it happen. It's the five P's: proper planning prevents poor performance. The goal is to plan... And assuming they need funding, they will use that plan to support loan or investor options. In most cases, folks do bootstrapping entrepreneurship: That's where funding is minimal: from family, savings, second mortgage—they bootstrap it if they can.

How are things looking right now as far as loan options?

It depends on how much money an individual is looking for, their personal credit line. Do I think it's at a standstill because of the credit crisis: No. The basics are still important. There are other alternatives aside from banks, other investor opportunities. Personality, their own financial background—there's an array of variables. An entrepreneur shouldn't be deterred if they have a great idea and there's a market... but they need to come to the table with the right plan to turn their business into a profitable entity.

Shine also spoke about specific trends that are hot right now on the market. They include: green energy, organic foods, Web applications, and alternative energy solutions. In fact, the December issue of Entrepreneur magazine is devoted to the upcoming trends and might be a good read for those considering taking the courses and testing the waters with their own idea.

From the press release:

The Genesee Community College scholarship program is part of the collaborative WIRED (Workforce Innovation in Regional Economic Development) grant, wherein eligible participants will be reimbursed for the cost of tuition and books for two college entrepreneurship courses offered in this coming Spring, Summer and Fall of 2009. The scholarship grants are valued at approximately $500 per semester for enrolling and completing Business 111: Exploring Business Opportunities; and Business 225: Entrepreneurship.

Interested individuals should submit the scholarship application form and related materials as soon as possible. The application deadline for the Spring 2009 semester is January 15th. Women and minorities are strongly encouraged to apply. Scholarship awardees will be notified prior to the start of each course.

For more information on the program or to get a copy of the scholarship application, visit the college's Web site.

Coincidentally, SUNY Geneseo is right now looking for business mentors for their Young Entrepreneurs Academy at the college. From the Academy:

The Young Entrepreneurs Academy is a program for middle and high school students that teaches them how to launch and run their very own business.

Mentors will have the opportunity to assist their student group in the process of developing and writing a business plan and creating an investor presentation used to request funding. We also encourage mentors to share their business experiences with the groups over the course of their meetings. Previous students have indicated that hearing first-hand accounts from members of the business community make a significant impact on what they are learning.

Visit the program's Web site for more information.

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