Partnership Expanding Area Entrepreneurship



April 14, 2009 – Southeast Missouri State University’s Innovation Center recently hosted another small business training class in which 14 students, representing five Bootheel counties, graduated. 

The course, titled Operation Jump-Start, was delivered in partnership with the Workforce Investment Board (WIB) of Southeast Missouri and was offered to low-income individuals and dislocated workers in the Southeast region. Counties represented by the graduates were Cape Girardeau, Bollinger, Pemiscot, Stoddard and Scott.

Operation Jump-Start is a nationally-recognized, highly successful training model delivered to individuals considering starting or expanding a small business.  The six-week course teaches participants essential business planning and preparation skills with non-academic, practical training.   The Jump-Start model consistently produces businesses that are still in operation at an astounding rate of 95 percent after more than two years.  The Southeast Innovation Center has been instrumental in training more than 600 individuals who have started more than 250 small businesses using the curriculum First Step FastTrac from the Kauffman Foundation.  The model also allows individuals to compete for start-up funds (up to $5,000) after completing training and a feasibility plan.  WIB funded the classes and will provide the start-up grant funds for those who win the feasibility plan competition. Grant funding determinations are scheduled for mid-May, after the plans have been reviewed and awarded by the funding committee.  The WIB’s mission is to promote a state of economic well-being by helping to create a skilled, diverse, motivated and adaptable workforce in Southeast Missouri.  

“Southeast Missouri employees have suffered a great deal with recent layoffs,” said Scott Sattler, manager of Business and Industry for WIB.  “The free course provided an opportunity to give those laid off or dislocated another alternative to conventional employment.”

Bill Vickery, entrepreneurial training director for the Southeast Innovation Center and director of Southeast University’s Small Business Development Center (SBDC) expressed his gratitude to the WIB for their support.  He said the partnership with WIB is about “providing entrepreneurship education and offering assistance to individuals who might have had some pretty large obstacles thrown into their paths lately.”

Catherine Spencer, recent Operation Jump-Start graduate and motivated entrepreneur, said, “The sole purpose of the class is to help the entrepreneur learn every facet of the business start-up process.”

Spencer recently was laid off from a major construction management company where she had been employed for more than 11 years as project administrator.  Spencer is now confident, she said, that she can start and run her own business, Spencer Services, and she recommends the course to anyone considering going into business for themselves.

“You don’t know how much you don’t know until you learn it from an instructor with extensive knowledge, of well, everything,” she said.

Operation Jump-Start instructors are hand-picked by Vickery. Vickery leads the instruction team of six who are required to travel to any new community which needs Jump-Started.  Each instructor possesses a background in areas like small business ownership, economic development, instruction and training, and customer service.“I can’t say enough great things about our instructors,” Vickery said. “It would be hard to find any more qualified folks who are as passionate about entrepreneurship as they are.”

To date, the WIB has been a dominant force in helping make the Southeast Innovation Center the number one deliverer of the First Step FastTrac curriculum, according to Dorothy Browning, National Curricula Manager with the First Step Fund.  In addition, Sattler said that Operation Jump-Start has, for the last three consecutive years, been the training model for the Missouri Division of Workforce Development, under which WIB receives its funding allocations.  WIB funding has provided hundreds of aspiring entrepreneurs in Southeast and south central Missouri with free classroom instruction, one-on-one business plan assistance from the classroom trainer, and seed capital for equipment and supplies.