Are you the next great entrepreneur?

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By Erin Eagan


Companies that have become household names all started out with an idea and a dream. Steve Jobs started Apple in a garage. Mark Zuckerberg built what is now Facebook in his Harvard dorm room. But all around us there are everyday people who also had aspirations of starting their own business. At some point in their lives, the local hair stylist, pastry chef and smartphone repair person decided to pursue their passion and become an entrepreneur.

In starting and building a business, however, there is risk involved. It’s not as simple as coming up with an idea, selling your product or service and then waiting for the money to come pouring in. Far from it. Most of today’s successful businesses owners have armed themselves with as much knowledge as possible before beginning their venture.

Does owning a business and being your own boss and sound appealing to you? If so, the right education can help you put your entrepreneurial passions into focus. Wisconsin’s technical colleges offer many courses, certificates, diploma and degree programs where aspiring entrepreneurs can learn the skills necessary to start, manage and grow their businesses — and turn their dreams into reality. An experienced team of instructors (some of whom are entrepreneurs themselves!) will teach you how to: develop business ideas, prepare a business plan, manage finances, analyze legal issues, evaluate marketing strategies and develop communication skills.

Statewide support
Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) and other organizations recognize the importance of small businesses to our communities and continue to provide the resources necessary to educate entrepreneurs and accelerate business growth across the state.

In 2017, WEDC awarded Gateway Technical College an $80,000 grant to support its Launch Box Growth Accelerator Program, which will help 10 area entrepreneurial teams start or grow their business. And Fox Valley Technical College received an $89,000 grant from the Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs to provide entrepreneurship training experience designed specifically for United States military veterans.

In January, Nicolet College received a $25,000 grant from WEDC to expand its entrepreneurship program. “We have been heavily focused on small business and working with entrepreneurs who may have a business idea but don't know the next step,” Sandy Bishop, Nicolet's dean of workforce and economic development told the Lakeland Times. “They come to us and say 'help me, I'd like to take this idea further, what should I do, what can I do?'"

With the option of enrolling full-time or just picking up a course here or there, take advantage of available resources offered by a technical college and join the list of Wisconsin’s many successful entrepreneurs.

Success stories
These two successful Wisconsin entrepreneurs prove that no matter your age or background, with a little help from the experts at our technical colleges, anything is possible.

Alex Hart-Upendo, Build-A-Bow, LLC
Eleven-year-old Alex Hart-Upendo is a walking example that age doesn’t matter when following a dream. This young entrepreneur created Build-A-Bow, LLC a fashion and special events business that benefits the less fortunate and other causes in the community. His business won Gateway Technical College’s Launch Box business pitch contest, along with $5,000 seed money. Along with regular schooling, Hart has also taken entrepreneurship classes alongside adults at Gateway Technical College.

Tracy Gunderson, Ribbon Gallery
For Tracy Gunderson, it all started when she was looking for a way to display her kids’ artwork and came up with a unique Ribbon Gallery kit that includes two large clothespins, two six-foot lengths of ribbon, six small clothespins and mounting hardware. Gunderson has set up stores on Etsy and Amazon and has also gotten several Green Bay-area businesses to sell her kits. Northeast Wisconsin Technical College’s Small Business Initiative has helped her grow into a business owner with a better-defined plan to expand going forward.