June is graduation time. Thousands of students of all ages will graduate and move on to the next phase of their life, including 25 small-business students from the New Ventures entrepreneurial training classes at two different Women, Work and Community centers.
Allow me to introduce you to the future of small business in Maine.
Nearly 30 years ago, Women, Work and Community launched New Ventures, an entrepreneurship training program that provides formal instruction and connections to resources for individuals just starting a small business. Today, New Ventures is a 12-week, 60-hour class that culminates in a written business plan and the presentation of that plan to the entire class.
During the course, students write their mission statements, identify their target customer, begin to create the brand for their business and prepare a cash flow projection. Outside professionals, including accountants, lawyers, bankers and small-business owners, also offer their expertise and give advice.
New Ventures has helped launch hundreds of small businesses across the state. The startup success of those businesses is impressive. According to outcomes research, 60 percent of New Ventures graduates launch their business after graduation, compared with 56 percent nationwide. Of that 60 percent, a full 97 percent of those individuals are still in business one year after launching, compared with 90 percent nationwide.
Government leaders have come to recognize the value of these small businesses.
“I have seen first hand the incredible work of Women, Work, and Community in helping women and men to achieve economic independence and become entrepreneurs who strengthen their communities,” Rep. Alexander Willette, assistant Republican leader in the Maine House, said. “WWC is a shining example of what is possible when education, motivation, and inspiration combine in an organization that is truly dedicated to improving the lives of Maine people.”
“WWC’s contributions to economic development in Maine have been immeasurable,” agreed Senate Majority Leader Seth Goodall of Richmond. “By empowering Mainers to start their own businesses, WWC is helping to build a dynamic Maine economy and the entrepreneurship skills of our people.”
As a business counselor and facilitator for New Ventures classes in midcoast Maine, I have seen the emerging power of a group of entrepreneurs who network, support and critique each other. The class interaction is critical and a strong motivator; when a respected peer holds you accountable for finishing your business plan and asks tough questions along the way, it keeps you focused and moving forward. This peer group process is as valuable to the outcome of a business plan as learning how to fill out your tax documents.
“I have no idea how I would have written my business plan without the help and guidance of New Ventures,” recent graduate Leah Twitchell of The Evolved Dog LLC, an online pet boutique launching this September, said. “If you follow through with all the course assignments, the curriculum basically takes you through a very detailed, step-by-step process of writing a business plan. It challenged me to face some of the tougher parts of the plan, like the cash-flow projection and market research. The other invaluable part of New Ventures is the feedback not only from the instructor, but also from the other entrepreneurs in the class who have been brilliant in providing constructive criticism as well as encouraging the creative process that brings a business to fruition.”
Twitchell’s classmate, Deena Prestegard, concurs.
“New Ventures is an impressive resource for facilitating the geniuses of many small businesses in Maine,” she said. “It is, without a doubt, everything a new business needs to get their ducks in a row. We are so fortunate to have this help here in Maine. The state presents its own unique challenges to businesses; it’s nice to know getting off the ground doesn’t have to be one of them.”
Prestegard is launching this holiday season. Her business, Artful Cranberry, creates gorgeous and unique fresh cranberry wreaths in Freeport.
Another graduate echoes a similar sentiment. Nicole Nelson co-owns We Are Fragrances and explains her take on the course experience.
“New Ventures was a great launching point in helping us pinpoint our ideal market, create a strategy to attract customers, and get comfortable with the financial aspects of our business,” she said. “Starting a new business is a constant learning process and New Ventures is just the beginning.”
Interested in taking a New Ventures class? There are classes beginning in September in Bangor, Augusta and South Portland. Check our class schedule for information.
Jenn Dobransky is the Microenterprise Coordinator for the Midcoast for Women, Work, and Community. For more information on upcoming trainings and business resources in your region, follow us on Facebook or contact firstname.lastname@example.org.