28 Bootheel Residents Graduate from Entrepreneurial Training Program



March 5, 2008 – Twenty-eight residents of the Missouri Bootheel graduated Feb. 26 from the six-week Operation Jump-Start entrepreneurial training program, the first step in a process toward them owning their own businesses.

The graduation ceremony was held at the University of Missouri Delta Center in Portageville, Mo.

The free course is a result of partnerships between Southeast Missouri State University’s Entrepreneurial Resource Center and Choice Inc., a not-for-profit organization from Memphis, Tenn., along with the Division of Workforce Development, the Workforce Investment Board of Southeast Missouri, the Delta Regional Authority and the Delta Center in Portageville, Mo.

Bill Vickery, director of Entrepreneurial Training and the Small Business Development Center at Southeast Missouri State University, facilitated the training.

“It’s been my privilege to work with these aspiring business owners as they move toward their dreams of business ownership,” Vickery said. “I look forward to the delivery of additional classes in this region in the future.”

Denise Word of Word’s Bar-B-Q Restaurant in Howardville, Mo., participated in the class.

“My husband and I were already in business, and there was still lots that I learned and realized I had to go back and re-do in my business plan,” Word said. “Mr. Bill (Vickery) really helped me and my husband and my family. There were so many things about small business ownership that I just had no idea about, like insurance and taxes.” 

Word said her mother, aunt and brother also participated in the course. Her mother and aunt hope to launch a catering business, and her brother hopes to open a barber shop. Word said the family hopes to purchase a building and operate all of these businesses from that location. She said the businesses will serve the Howardville, Lilbourn and New Madrid areas.

Another participant in the class, Catherine Brooks of Howardsville, Mo., said she also wants to open a catering service.

“I learned so much in the class,” she said. “It was so helpful, and Mr. Bill is a great teacher.”

The course offering in Portageville was the result of the efforts of Marene Austin, a Caruthersville, Mo., native, former student of Washington High  School in Caruthersville and founder and executive director of Choice, Inc. Austin coordinated the program with Southeast officials to offer valuable “economic empowerment services” to citizens in her native Pemiscot County.   “This exposure has been an excellent tool for these students and will be good and healthy for their personal development as well as their business development,” Austin said. “We look forward to continuing our collaboration efforts with Southeast Missouri State University’s Innovation Center and Bill Vickery and going forward with more of the same.”

Southeast officials say another Operation Jump-Start class is planned in the near future in the Bootheel area. 

Graduates of the program attended 12 class sessions, where they received business plan coaching. Vickery led the training using the First Step FastTrac Program curriculum developed by the Kauffman Foundation. The course included material on development of a business concept, market analysis, pricing, cash flow and other areas critical to business success.

The program is designed for people in the low to middle income range who are starting or expanding a small business. The course gives participants the opportunity to evaluate and test ideas in a safe and supportive environment.

Participants who successfully complete this free program and develop a business plan are eligible to apply for a grant up to $5,000 to assist with business start-up expenses.

Grants received by Southeast Missouri State University from the Delta Regional Authority, U.S. Department of Labor and the Missouri Division of Workforce Development in conjunction with Southeast’s Innovation Center allowed participants to attend the sessions at no cost.

Vickery has taught these classes in other areas of southeast Missouri over the last couple of years. He said most businesses launched as a result of this program “are not flashy companies. But they hire people and have people working for them. It’s progress. These are some folks who have taken some control over their destiny. They are building something they might be able to pass on to their children.”

Over the last five years this program has assisted in the creation or expansion of more than 140 businesses and the creation of more than 170 jobs, he said.

Vickery says the First Step FastTrac Entrepreneurial Training is not an intimidating course.

“It’s a course they can understand, but it still takes a real commitment from these people,” he said. “The thing that doesn’t show up in the statistics,” Vickery said, “is the self-confidence and self esteem” the participants gain through the course. “They learn to network with people out in the community.”