The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

October 13, 2012

'Boot Camp' program helps local entrepreneurs get on their feet

By James Neal, Staff Writer
Enid News & Eagle

ENID, Okla. — Autry Technology Center will graduate its third OSU Boot Camp for Entrepreneurs Tuesday, the latest effort in the ongoing drive to create new local entrepreneurs.

The Boot Camp is the first step in the Grow Enid Inc. program, billed as “a concerted effort of public and private institutions in the Enid region to foster the start up and growth of small businesses.”

Autry Technology Center partnered with the Oklahoma State University Riata Center and several local businesses to bring the six-week OSU Boot Camp for Entrepreneurs to Enid. The program teaches prospective and current business owners skills in business plan development, marketing, small business finance and different legal structures for small businesses.

Brian Gaddy, director of the James W. Strate Center for Business Development at Autry Technology Center, said the Boot Camp program is possible in Enid because of the leadership and generosity of local entrepreneurs.

“The older, established entrepreneurial community in Enid is stepping up and saying ‘Somebody has to fill our shoes,’” Gaddy said. “They’re looking at Enid, and the thing they see is that our major employers here almost all started as small locally owned businesses.”

Gaddy said the local Boot Camp program is possible largely due to the sponsorship of local entrepreneurs Lew Ward, founder and chairman of Ward Petroleum, and Paul Allen, co-founder of Advance Food Company.

“Because of their generous support, and the support of the local business community, we are able to provide scholarships to younger people to get them the business exposure and the information they need to get started,” Gaddy said.

He said it can take upwards of $600 to enroll in the OSU Boot Camp for Entrepreneurs in other cities, but the local program is able to provide full scholarships for students of any educational institution, active duty service members, veterans and their spouses. Reduced rate scholarships are available for all based on need.

Gaddy said the program goes beyond book work, and includes hands-on training and a chance to meet and network with other trainees and current business owners.

“Networking with other entrepreneurs and hopeful entrepreneurs is a big part of our boot camp,” Gaddy said. “These events are highly interactive all through the seminar, but we’ve built in some extra networking time for our attendees and presenters.”

Autry Tech self-employment coordinator Phillip Gillham said business planning is a major purpose of the Boot Camp for Entrepreneurs, and a major hurdle for the participants.

“What we’re trying to do is get them the resources and the knowledge they need to get started,” Gillham said. “We really want them to get in there and start working on writing their business plan.”

Gillham said the business plan is a crucial step in taking a business concept, evaluating its viability and making a specific plan for everything from start-up capital to marketing strategy and annual financial projections.

“That’s the hardest part in the whole process for a lot of people, is to just start writing their business plan,” Gillham said.

“It makes them start thinking deeper about their business, and it makes them start putting it down on paper,” Gaddy said of the business plan process. “At that point, when it’s down on paper, it starts to become real, and if it’s something they’re passionate about, they can pursue it.”

Current boot camp participants say the business plan process is the most complex — and the most useful — part of the course.

“I honestly had no idea how to write one, so I thought this would be right down my alley,” said Lance Trickel, who enrolled in the course for help with expanding his self-storage business, Superior Storage.

Nearing retirement age, Trickel said he’s had extensive experience working in small businesses and owning his own sole propietorship. However, expanding his business required planning beyond the scope of his past experience.

“I either had no idea, or had no idea of the scope of it, and now I’m getting some info that will really help me,” Trickel said. “I’ve been really impressed with it.”

Megan Clark, who still is developing the plan for her first business, said the program has given her some valuable connections and resources.

“It’s a good way to network with people in Enid who already have small businesses and are trying to do the same thing you are, and connect with resources you might not even know are there,” she said. “It’s been very useful. It’s given us a chance to listen to other people’s experiences who have been in business a long time and hear how they got started.”

And, the help with business planning and development doesn’t stop with boot camp graduation. Autry Tech staff are available to help graduates of the Boot Camp for Entrepreneurs and also the Small Business Development Academy for up to one year after graduation.

Linda Isaak, co-founder of Aspire Oklahoma LLC, said the boot camp program was instrumental in getting her started in business. Isaak opened the couseling center for autistic children this fall with co-founder Sandra Reese-Keck, according to an Autry Tech press release.

“Taking the course gave me the skills and courage to pursue my dream,” Isaak said. “The OSU Boot Camp for Entrepreneurs is a great way to learn in an enjoyable environment with expert instructors that provide a learning experience that can be applied to real adversities faced in business.”

Linda Beguin, owner of Over the Fence Farms, said her business wouldn’t have been feasible without the help offered by Autry Tech.

“We literally would not have been able to do it without them,” Beguin said.

She started her specialty convenience food business as a hobby, and moved into Autry’s incubator facility full-time in July. She now operates the business with the help of her son, Adam, and her husband, Jerry.

She heavily relies on the ongoing support offered to incubator clients, and receives regular counseling from Gaddy and Gillham.

“I get to those points where I’m discouraged, but the staff here really helps you see it’s all part of starting a business, and they help you get over that hump,” she said.

Bequin said she learns something new in every boot camp session, and she’s been able to apply the lessons in her business planning process.

One of the biggest lessons, she said, is you have to be willing to adapt your business plan as the business grows and changes.

“You might start that business plan thinking you’re going down one path, but it’s taken me very little time to see I’m heading down a different path,” Beguin said.

Some boot camp graduates take a different path altogether, and decide not to go into business on their own.

Gaddy said the business planning process still is valuable for them and for their future employers.

“The people who don’t go out and start their own businesses will still have that entrepreneurial mindset, and they can become one of those top five employees every business needs to succeed,” he said. “You get an understanding of what goes into starting and running a small business, and they have a greater understanding and appreciation of what small business owners have gone through in starting a business.”

For more information on the OSU Boot Camp for Entrepre-neurs and other business development training, go to autrytech .edu, or call Gaddy at (580) 242-2750.