Starting a business is an undertaking fraught with risk, and for most of us entrepreneurs, or entrepreneurs-to-be, we didn’t take a class called “Starting a Business 101.” The truth is, starting and growing a business is part science and part art, but if there is “science” that can be learned, wouldn’t you want to avail yourself of those opportunities, especially if those opportunities included capital?
Public and private sector opportunities exist for learning business basics and many are offered at little or even no cost. You certainly need not have a formalized business degree or an even more expensive MBA to make it as an entrepreneur. But it does help to have some familiarity with the fundamentals of starting and operating a business and that is exactly what these programs teach.
Best of all, there are programs designed to educate, mentor and even finance women.
Center for Women & Enterprise has been assisting women to launch and expand their businesses since 1995, with offices in Boston, Worcester and Providence. With classes such as Business Basics: Ten Steps to Starting a Business, available in an online format for free, what could possibly hold you back? Results speak to the true success of participants: 32% report an increase in personal or business income and 28% report improved credit score. A strong credit score is critical to securing a business loan and well worth your time and effort.
An 18-week in-person course, entitled Community Entrepreneurs Program, costs $895, but a majority of the participants enrolled in the CWE’s programs received scholarships, determined by income. Perhaps more than the content of the programs themselves, the CWE community is the true underpinning of success. According to Kaitlyn Karusko, CWE Program & Executive Assistant, “CWE offers women entrepreneurs a strong community, where they feel validated and supported as they navigate the (immensely challenging but wildly rewarding) path of business ownership. Every day, we are inspired by the stories, and by the women who come to us with merely a dream and who go on to develop something really successful.” You can also receive women-owned business certification, which is especially helpful in procuring lucrative government and large corporation contracts.
Most exciting to me, is that many of these business training programs not only provide training but also capital, in the form of loans.
Bad Girl Ventures with locations in Ohio’s three C’s cities has a unique approach that combines education, mentoring and a competition with the prize of a low-interest $25,000 loan. You can pay to attend the nine-week course as a whole or a la carte as a student. Better yet, you can apply as a Finalist which means becoming a member of a 10-woman cohort that works through the nine-week course together for free. The winner among the Finalists earns a $25,000 low-interest loan. Each session combines two hours of classroom time with one hour of one-on-one “speed dating” style mentoring, during which participants interface for 10 minutes with a number of experts in a variety of fields to get specific questions answered.
One of the qualities I find most attractive among these business training programs is that they are truly for the masses in terms of funding.
And by that I mean you don’t have to invent the next life-transforming product or platform to get capital.
In the current private capital markets, much, if not all, of investment is focused on high-growth sectors. In fact, you would be hard-pressed to find an angel or VC who wants to invest in a low-growth industry. And if you think about it, you can understand why. Angels and VCs take the up-front risk when they invest, knowing that most of the businesses they invest in will fail. Yes, that’s correct, most businesses will fail or not make a dime for these seed and early-stage investors. Remember, these investments are private and not publicly traded.
Angels and VCs invest in a portfolio of companies with a fairly straightforward formula. Let’s keep the math simple and look at a sample 10-company portfolio. Seed or early stage investors count on losing all of their investment in 3-4 of the companies. Another 3-4 will go sideways, meaning the investor will not make nor lose money. Then if the investor is lucky, the final one or two companies may deliver a 2x or 3x return, or ideally, at least a 10x, in order to make the overall portfolio a net gainer. For VCs, they are really vying for those 100X winners.
These kinds of success metrics necessarily narrow the types of businesses and industries an investor will consider. It’s pretty obvious that investing $5000 in a main-street-type business isn’t going to deliver the market and corresponding necessary returns that these investors need to “win” overall. More often than not, you will find that the investment dollars go to companies with some underpinning of technology, or another disruptive innovation that is paradigm-changing. This is all well and good, and the investment environment more or less functions as expected for high-growth industries like life sciences, clean energy and technology, but what about all the other kinds of businesses out there? If your product doesn’t have a potential consumer market of 100,000’s of customers or a b-b market of 1000’s of customers, what’s an entrepreneur to do?
It is indeed good news then, that there are organizations that extend capital to a range of businesses, including the home-based and main-street varieties.
Below is a short, and by no means comprehensive list of organizations that can help with training and financing, which I hope will encourage to you to pursue your dream of business ownership.
Thypin Oltchik Institute for Women’s Entrepreneurship – training + financing. Based in New York City. www.yourfutureinbusiness.org
NYCBusiness Solutions – sponsored through the Small Business Service agency, they assist business owners of all stripes get in loan-ready shape, thereby increasing the chances of securing a Small Business Administration or bank loan. Basic business skills and technical training are among some of the numerous offerings, all of which are free. Check with your local state or municipal Small Business Services to see what options are available in your locale.
Looking for funding? Check out my first article in a 8-part funding series on TheNextWomen. Funding 101, Part I: Bootstrapping.
Elizabeth Crowell is the co-owner of Sterling Place, a multichannel retail company that sells eclectic antiques, fine home decor and specialty gifts. Profitable from year two, the business has steadily grown, with two store locations in Brooklyn, as well as a website. Sterling Place has been profiled by the NY Times and Elizabeth has been a repeat guest expert on Martha Stewart Living Radio. In 2011, Elizabeth was selected as one of 10 in the inaugural class of Pipeline Fellows, a program designed to train women to angel invest in women-led triple bottom line ventures, ie. profitable, environmentally responsible and delivering social impact. She is in the process of building out her own angel portfolio.