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Friday, August 15, 2014

MaryBeth Matzek: Entrepreneurial education program spreads its wings


By MaryBeth Matzek
A program that started out 14 years ago at Fox Valley Technical College as a way to prepare would-be entrepreneurs has gone nationwide.

E-Seed, an intensive 10-week course that makes entrepreneurs think deeply about their ideas and ends with them writing a viable business plan, is now available to other community and technical colleges across the country. Since the Venture Center, which is housed at FVTC and runs the E-Seed program, began licensing the program less than two years ago, schools ranging from Nicolet Area Technical College in Rhinelander to Bismarck State College in North Dakota have signed up to offer the course to local residents looking to start their own businesses.

The schools receive the E-Seed curriculum, access to an online portal and advice from Amy Pietsch, director of the Venture Center, and her staff, on how to start and sustain the program.

"E-Seed is really about creating new businesses – and new jobs -- in the community. It's a proven economic development program," she says. "Our key selling point is that E-Seed has helped create more than 300 businesses since it started. This strategy works."

During E-Seed, each week is focused on a different business aspect and the goal is for students to walk away knowing whether or not they have a viable business model. Students are taught not only by college staff, but also hear firsthand from local business professionals, such as accountants, marketers and attorneys, on what they need to know about launching and running a successful business.

In March, Pietsch is welcoming technical and community colleges from across the country to attend a free two-day seminar in Appleton to learn more about E-Seed and how it might work for them. Click here for more on the co-create session.

"We call it a co-create session where we talk about what we do and why we do it," she says. "We can customize it to their location, too, if they are interested."

If schools want to move forward, they purchase a licensing fee and then pay a per student fee for students who sign up.

"While it's another revenue stream for the Venture Center, it's also a great way to help colleges grow their local economies," Pietsch says. "In Rhinelander, they've had 15 new business launches. That's significant for their economy and that's what this is about: a proven way to grow the economy."

As part of the E-Seed program, Pietsch helps other colleges create relationships with professionals in their community – for example reaching out to attorneys and accountants.

"By getting professionals involved, students are not only receiving key information, you're also helping them build their networks and the same is true for the professionals who participate," she says. "Ideally, those relationships will extend beyond just the E-Seed program and throughout the entire college. It's good to have businesses involved with what's happening at the local colleges."

Hospital venture

In a follow-up to a column I wrote in June about smaller hospitals joining up with larger ones, there was another example this week when Aurora Health Care made its interest in Bay Area Medical Center in Marinette official by taking partial ownership. The two sides began talking last year. While the value of Aurora's investment in the hospital wasn't made public, the deal gives local Aurora clinics a local hospital – before this, the closest Aurora hospital was in Green Bay – and Bay Area Medical Center will get an infusion of capital and will install the Epic electronic medical record system.

On the move

The Wisconsin Women's Business Initiative Corporation (WWBIC) is moving its headquarters to Schlitz Park in Milwaukee.

WWBIC helps men- and women-owned businesses in all phases of their development, from start-ups to established businesses. In 2013, the group helped 720 businesses, providing $4.8 million in direct loans to 120 business owners and educated more than 3,000 in either group or individual sessions. In addition to the office in Milwaukee, there are also offices in Madison, Racine, Kenosha and three virtual rural offices.

The WWBIC is the latest business to move into Schlitz Park this year. Other new tenants include HAS Bank, UMB Fund Services, My Dwelling, and RDA Enthusiast Brands.

-- Matzek, a freelance writer and editor, is the owner of 1Bizzy Writer. She has worked in the past as a news editor at Insight Publications and as business editor at the Appleton Post-Crescent.

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