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Reducing risk: Entrepreneur center helps small businesses increase their odds of success

Lorrine Lias with Alcorn State University Community Resource Development laughs during a class discussion regarding international business procedures Tuesday night at the Alcorn Technology Incubator. (Lauren Wood \ The Natchez Democrat)

NATCHEZ — Whether you are prospective small business owner or an established business owner, running a small business is risky. Most don’t make it.

Too often entrepreneurs don’t think about details that go into running a business. Not knowing about these things, John Brandon of the Entrepreneur Center — a division of the Mississippi Development Authority — said can and does lead to failure.

But with the right training, Brandon said a small business’ chance of succeeding greatly improves.

In partnership with the MDA, Natchez Inc. and Alcorn State University began giving a seven-month entrepreneurship training class in April. The students meet once a month at the Alcorn Technology Center and will finish in November.

“It has been a motivation for me,” said Shirley Priest, who owns Payroll Services of MS. “All the information has been good and helpful.”

Carol Moore , director of the U.S. Department of Commerce, gives a presentation about different programs within the government that businesses can utilize for international trade during Tuesday’s entrepreneur academy class at the Alcorn State University Technology Incubator. (Lauren Wood \ The Natchez Democrat)

Priest, who has clients in Mississippi and Louisiana, said as a result of the class she has changed the way she markets her business. Before, she didn’t know how important advertising was.

“The class taught me about the different ways to market my business,” Priest said. “I learned my focus needed to start right here in my community.”

The class covered topics on business planning, the legal aspects of owning and managing a business, dealing with employees, location, types of insurance, marketing and advertising, funding and understanding financial statements.

“I’m one of those people that no matter how long you’ve been in business, I thought (the class) may help,” said Teri Roddy, who owns Patina Home, an interior design business. “It’s helped a lot. I’m not as good on the business end, so any help on the business end has been a tremendous boost for me.”

The monthly meetings begin with Brandon introducing the topic and having an open discussion with the class, before a local speaker addresses the participants on that night’s topic.

Becky Junkin, owner of Pur’ Pilates of Natchez, said the local speakers brought many things to light for her. Junkin, who retired from teaching at Cathedral School in 2008, opened her business in February.

“A lawyer talked to us about the different types of businesses,” Junkin said. “We had someone come in and talk to us about insurance. I realized I needed more.

“I knew nothing about running a business when I started. I wish I could have done this before I got started.”

For many entrepreneurs, Brandon said not fully knowing the details of handling the day-to-day aspects of running a business is common.

“I’m not teaching them how to do their craft,” Brandon said. “I’m trying to teach how to make money at it and focus on what they need to do to keep their businesses going.”

One of the projects class participants are required to do before graduation is write a business plan.

Brandon said the purpose of writing out a business plan was to get everything on paper.

“A lot of people think they can start a business quicker than possible and with less money that what is actually needed,” Brandon said. “Writing a business plan gets people to stop, look and plan according.”

Students have expressed interest in continuing their education after the class ends, Priest said, and Natchez Inc.’s Chris Hinton and ASU’s Ruth Nichols said those plans were already in the works.

“Based on feedback, this has been an extremely successful and timely class,” Nichols said. “The participants have be overwhelming grateful.

“Small business can be the engine of an economy. We want to support people that want to start a business and keep it local.”

Hinton said offering these types of classes and endorsing entrepreneurship is a key component of economic development.

“People are now doing more with less, which is the premise that entrepreneurs thrive on,” Hinton said. “Training in small business development and entrepreneurship is vital to the overall economy, because such development is what drives the economy.

“It’s important that entrepreneurs understand the components of starting a business, such as creating a business plan to encompass an executive summary, the industry, the company and its products, a business analysis, market research, competitor analysis, operating plan, management team and a financial plan. The Entrepreneur Academy Training Course does just that, and that’s why it’s imperative that we sustain it.”

For more information on the MDA Entrepreneurship Center, go to www.entrepreneurshipcenter.mississippi.org.