‘Revolution in Resources' Is Key to Success for Premiere Midwest Trainer
When aspiring entrepreneurs seek resources to launch a business, they should be prepared to enjoy the experience long after their training is complete if the Venture Center at Fox Valley Technical College (FVTC) in Appleton, WI, is leading the way. Successful entrepreneurs who received training from the Venture Center know firsthand that turning a profit isn't the only benefit from the experience.
The Venture Center commemorated five years of noteworthy benchmarks at the end of 2010, but the anniversary celebration didn't just focus on the successful launch of 300-plus businesses or the more than 800 jobs created in northeast Wisconsin. The real buzz behind this early milestone was the revolution of community resources that came together to create an entrepreneurial ecosystem that is revolutionizing economic development in our region. It's easy to see why the Venture Center has emerged as more than a reputable trainer for business start up and planning. It has become a central hub for a growing entrepreneur network.
"As an entrepreneur and small business educator, we learned that alone you can't be everything to everyone,” says Amy Pietsch, director of the Venture Center at FVTC and E-Seed instructor. "The value you bring to a small business owner is a continuous network of support, rather than just a one-time training experience.”
That role, according to Pietsch, was a huge paradigm shift for the Venture Center during its five years of development. "It's easy to focus on marketing the services you provide, but the real impact is on marketing your resources,” she notes. "By doing so, you create a network that evolves into a one-stop shop for small businesses and entrepreneurship development.”
Pietsch, who has also presented nationally for the National Association for Community College Entrepreneurship Conference, championed the inception of the Venture Center, which has grown to offer E-Seed, a 15-week entrepreneur training program with an option for a faster track through E-Seed Express; Pro-Seed powered by E-Myth for existing business owners seeking growth strategies; and an annual Youth Entrepreneur Summit for more than 400 high school students. The summit involves E-Seed completers who share their small business success stories with the students.
These small business owners represent industries like retail, restaurants, manufacturing, clothing, renewable energy, service, health care, and more. "You need to share the small business owners' and entrepreneurs' stories to communicate your impact,” added Pietsch.
One of the Venture Center's E-Seed completers with global clientele is Sandy Martin of Green 3 Apparel in Oshkosh, WI. Sandy and her husband, Jim, own the organic clothing and home soft goods store that specializes in high quality, environmentally-friendly customized apparel. Martin says the rigorous E-Seed program helped give her insight on every aspect of entrepreneurship.
"We worked on weekly projects, and during each class we reviewed our work and shared constructive criticism,” Martin notes. "We also had special guests, like lawyers who explained some of the legal aspects of business and accountants who could discuss numbers. It was great to get their perspectives on things every week.”
In less than three years, Green 3 has grown from two to 15 employees, has its clothing line in more than 400 boutiques and stores throughout the United States and in Tokyo, in addition to operating a large volume mail order infrastructure. Now, it is Martin who is one of those "guest speakers” at Venture Center training sessions. The cycle from trainee-to-storyteller-to-trainer is what keeps the network expanding, and the revolution fueling the region's economy.
"Don't close the door on the relationship when the entrepreneur opens his or her door for business; keep these individuals as part of what you do,” she says.
Her advice is well received. In addition to the business launches, job creation, and hundreds of high school students introduced to entrepreneurship, the Venture Center also has connected more than 1,100 entrepreneurs at monthly networking events, coordinated the annual Northeast Wisconsin Entrepreneur Networking Day, provided more than 3,000 hours of one-on-one coaching, instruction, and technical assistance, and introduced high-tech, global networking and prototype creation through FVTC's Fab Lab (Fabrication Laboratory) for inventors and product developers.
Sandy Martin, of Green 3 Apparel in Oshkosh, WI, has completed The Venture Center's E-Seed training at Fox Valley Technical College.