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Small business courses offered

NATCHEZ — Small businesses are said to be the backbone of the economy, and this week local economic developers are hoping to strengthen the backbone of the area.

The Entrepreneur Academy — an effort by Natchez Inc., Alcorn State University and the Mississippi Development Authority to help starting entrepreneurs — will start Friday at the Alcorn Technology Center on Franklin Street.

“This is for anybody who has ever had a thought about opening a business,” said Ruth Nichols, ASU’s assistant vice president for educational and community partnerships. “They will find out all the things it would take to make that a reality. They will get a lot of nurturing and mentoring from the MDA — they are the experts in entrepreneurship.”

The academy will teach participants how to develop a business plan, how to find funding and how to manage money once a business is started, and Nichols said local business owners will tell participants how they market their own businesses.

This is the second year Natchez has played host to the academy, but Nichols said this year the format will be different from its previous form.

“Last year we had it over seven months, one night a month for seven months,” she said. “It was so successful that places around the state are asking the MDA to come in and do the same thing there, so they are piloting the weekend format here in Natchez.”

The first weekend will focus on how to start or improve existing businesses. The second weekend, which Nichols said will be in a couple of months, will have participants come back with a business plan they have developed and have representatives from the MDA go over the plan with them.

“All the research you read shows that small businesses are the overall backbone of the economy,” she said. “More than 80 percent of businesses in this country are small businesses, and 90 percent of the employees in this county work for small businesses. It is really critical to this part of the state to nurture small businesses and give them the support and the education and backing they need to be successful. We are trying to make sure that if somebody cares enough to start a small business, they are getting the support to stay in business.”

Nichols said a few slots at the academy are still available for those who are interested, and those who want to register should call (601) 445-0288 for more information.