FastTrac NewVenture help for displaced workers


    ZEELAND — Displaced workers in West Michigan can get help starting a small business during a repeat session of the FastTrac NewVenture entrepreneurship training program that begins today in Zeeland.

    The eight-week program is again being sponsored by Lakeshore Advantage, the Michigan Small Business & Technology Development Center and Ottawa County Michigan Works! The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation founded the program 15 years ago to foster entrepreneurship across the country through a practical, hands-on business development training designed to help entrepreneurs hone the skills needed to evaluate and perfect a business concept, write a business plan, and launch and build a business.

    The program isn’t geared to entrepreneurs in any particular industry: The training can be applied to any kind of business venture, from retail to service to technology business, according to Nancy Boese, business tools specialist for the Michigan SBTDC. Boese and Joanne Fowler, a business intake consultant with the SBTDC, are facilitating the program, as they did the initial program last November.

    FastTrac New Ventures training program will run today through March 30, with classes held each Monday from 2-5 p.m. at Lakeshore Advantage’s headquarters, 201 W. Washington, Suite 410, in Zeeland. Boese and Joanne Fowler, an intake consultant with SBTDC, are once again serving as program facilitators. Both are certified by the Kaufman Foundation as FastTrac facilitators. 

    The cost of the program is $700, but Ottawa County Michigan Works’ sponsorship of the program provides eligible displaced workers with a full scholarship, under eligibility criteria determined by Michigan Works! Interested parties should go to Ottawa County’s Michigan Works! office to check on scholarship eligibility, but the program is open to displaced workers in surrounding counties who are able to travel to Zeeland for the classes, Boese noted.

    For those ineligible for the Michigan Works! full scholarship, the SBTDC is providing $350 scholarships to pay half the cost because $700 is a lot for an unemployed worker to come up with, Boise said. Training materials are provided at a 25 percent discount. 

    “The Kaufman Foundation and FastTrac understand the economic conditions in Michigan right now, and they are being very supportive at reducing the book costs for everyone in the state that takes one of their classes,” Boise added. 

    Twenty-five people participated in the first training session last fall, and by week two of the program, there were 15 people on a waiting list hoping to get in on a repeat session, Boese said. SBTDC is bumping the cap up to 30 participants this time around, she said. A few of the original participants have gone on to start a new business, according to the SBTDC.  

    “When I took the class, I wasn’t sure if I was ready to start my own business,” stated Raymond Nowak, now owner of Fast Teks, a computer repair service for residential and small business customers. “The program helped me focus on one of my business ideas and it allowed me to test my business plan with professionals and participants in the class. The program gave me confidence and the tools to start my own business.”

    The SBTDC offers business counseling, training, research and advocacy for new ventures and existing small businesses. Its state headquarters in Grand Valley State University’s Seidman College of Business in downtown Grand Rapids supports 12 regional offices and more than 30 satellite offices that serve small business owners and entrepreneurs throughout 83 Michigan counties through a cooperative agreement with the U.S. Small Business Administration.

    Although the SBTDC offers one-on-one assistance with new business ventures, the FastTrac program packs a lot of business know-how into a concentrated eight-week session, Boise said.

    “It’s very difficult to educate people one-on-one on everything it takes to start a business,” she explained. “The other thing is that, in the program, they get to network with and meet a wide array of entrepreneurs that could help them in their business by serving as mentors or service providers. Those kinds of connections are invaluable. Our consultants give them a lot of hand-holding through the process too.”

    Boese said SBTDC will be running the FastTrac program periodically, but when it will be held and where — whether in Ottawa County or Kent County — she doesn’t know at this time. It will be offered as demand dictates, she said. 

    The FastTrac program is available nationwide through a variety of organizations, including chambers of commerce, business development centers, local and regional economic development councils, colleges, universities and consulting firms.

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