National Business Incubation Association; Your source for knowledge and networks in business incubation


Good business ideas often come from people with limited education or business experience. Here's how your program can use incubation basics to help entrepreneurs whose life circumstances -- including income, education, and business literacy -- leave them too inexperienced to launch a company without some extra hand-holding.

Square one: Serving the inexperienced entrepreneur

by Meredith Erlewine

August 1999

When Vaneese Johnson went to a San Francisco bank to apply for a commercial loan, the loan committee didn't see her drive and her clear aptitude for business. They apparently never got beyond the facts. Johnson is a single mom who grew up on public assistance in a single-family home. On top of that, she had no previous experience running a business, no clue what a financial statement was, no collateral, a blemished credit history and paltry start-up sales. In the bankers' eyes, Johnson was not entrepreneurial material. They turned her down.

Johnson considered her economic disadvantages and inexperience irrelevant. Fortunately for Johnson and her business, On the Move Staffing Service, the Renaissance Entrepreneurship Center concurred. Renaissance staff saw a very different picture of Johnson than the bankers: She already had taken the initiative to start a temporary staffing business in her home, had one client with repeat business and was motivated. Confident that she could tap into a niche of the temporary staffing business in which she had spent five years as an employee, Johnson knew that she just needed to learn – something Renaissance staff could help her do.

"When Vaneese came in, she demonstrated that she had some experience and that she was already making money," says Paul Terry, the consultant who has developed Renaissance's training programs. "But she had no experience running a business or generating financials." Johnson is like many entrepreneurs whose life or work factors – including income, education and business or professional literacy – leave them too inexperienced to launch a company without some extra hand-holding. Yet they have plenty of the right raw materials.

Incubator managers and staff have found several tried-and-true ways to help prepare inexperienced entrepreneurs to compete with others who have stronger entrepreneurial skill sets. Many of these tactics go back to the very basics of incubation, providing an excellent opportunity to take a peek at how some incubators are assisting entrepreneurs through fundamental business assistance. Following are incubation program features from incubator staff whose programs focus on helping entrepreneurs who enter the game at square one.

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Keywords: benchmarking clients, client selection/admissions, coaching clients, entrepreneurial pool, microenterprise, professional development -- client, seminars and training programs, social entrepreneurship, woman-owned business

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