Hartford Business.com August 31, 2010
Q&A with Jennifer De Kine, Side St. to Main St. Coordinator, Middlesex County Chamber of Commerce; and James Jackson, The Essex Group, program coordinator
Minority business road map
August 31, 2010
Q. What is the Side Street to Main Street program of the Middlesex County Chamber of Commerce?
A. Middlesex County Chamber of Commerce's Side Street to Main Street Business and Leadership Development Program is a unique, award winning development program for small, minority owned businesses in Middlesex County and beyond. With a focus on personal and business planning and leadership, the program accepts only 16 qualified applicants each year to assure maximum impact and effectiveness. The program is funded by a generous grant from the Aetna Foundation, and is facilitated by professionals from The Essex Group.
An intensive two-track program for minority small business owners and those who want to start a business. Track one focuses on writing a comprehensive business plan using a proven model. Track two covers leadership and management topics that range from behavioral and motivation factor assessments to labor law, sales, customer service, risk reduction, understanding finances, and many more topics.
The program covers a calendar year. Sixteen weekly sessions start in October and run through February each year. Graduation is held in March along with the first of three quarterly follow-up sessions.
Q. The program is now in its 14th year. What are some of its success stories? How many people have gone through the program?
A. To date, 158 people have graduated from the program. We have a number of success stories including:
- A retailer of African made jewelry and arts that funnels profits back to Africa to assist with AIDS treatment.
- A woman-owned asbestos and lead paint remediation contractor.
- Several successful hair salon owners, including one who bought and renovated a run-down building with a loan from the Middlesex County Revitalization Fund. This business owner is now expanding with a new loan from the fund.
- A firefighter who set up an electrician's business complete with fully equipped box truck from which to service clients.
- A wedding planner who also can supply decor for the reception.
- An ethnic women's and men's clothing store.
- A successful hairdresser who wanted to open a school to teach ethnic hair care, which is not taught in traditional cosmetology courses.
- Two cafe owners in different parts of the city.
- A local landlord who prides himself on the quality of his properties and tenants.
- A couple who operate a specialty business selling scents and lotions.
- A 24 hour day care center
- and many more.
For each success, the program has helped stop several failures before they happened by allowing the participant to better vet their passion objectively.
Q. What has been the evolution of the program over 14 years? What's being done differently now than when it first started?
A. The program has been improved and expanded every year. It started as a 10-week program and was expanded to its current 16 core weeks plus three quarterly updates. Additional modules have been added and others updated. A program of guest speakers has been added and expanded. New materials and assessments have strengthened the program.
One constant is the process of enlisting participants into active participation as an informal "board of advisors" for each other. Not only does the facilitator offer comments and insights, but the participants can offer the most astute critiques of all. Working discussion groups form a part of most classes and a good deal of insight and learning takes place as a result.
Q. The program is "designed to assist minority small business owners in the community, who have not had formal business training." Aren't there already programs in place that do this? What sets your program apart?
A. There are no programs we know of that are as comprehensive and lengthy as the Side Street to Main Street Program outside of a few college level entrepreneurial programs. Resources such as SCORE (Service Corp of Retired Executives) and the MSBDC (Middletown Small Business Development Center operate at a different level, and on a one-to-one basis. Many of our participants also take advantage of SCORE and/or MSBDC, and we mutually refer people.
Q. The program is fully funded by a grant from The Aetna Foundation. What does it cost to participate in the Side Street to Main Street program?
A. There is no out-of-pocket monetary cost to participants. We supply all the materials and facilitation. We ask only that they sign a "Contract of Commitment" to show up, work hard and share what they are learning with others. The program has a competitive application process and requires all applicants to attend a Mandatory Program Orientation and Application submission. Only 16 people are selected for each year's program from an applicant pool that typically runs twice that number.
Q. What's the time commitment? It seems as if the one thing small business owners may not have time for is a program like this.
A. Weekly sessions run from 3½ to 4½ hours each in the evening. Homework is assigned each week to be completed by the following session. Homework can take an additional 4- 10 hours to complete each week. Business owners often have fewer problems completing the homework than other participants as they already have a sense of what time management and priorities are. Other participants must "mine" the clock for the hours needed for the program. This means breaking old non-productive habits and establishing new, more productive ones. A unit on Time Management and Work-Life Balance is one of the early parts of the program.