Fox Valley Technical College’s Venture Center has taken a bit of its own advice when it comes to helping entrepreneurs get started.
The Venture Center’s E-Seed course has helped entrepreneurs like Josh Beck get the business training and support they needed to turn their ideas into viable, growing enterprises.
Beck, who founded his 3-D printing business Beck Prototypes in May, said E-Seed’s 12-week entrepreneurship course has already helped him plan for slow, measured growth and careful planning as he gets started.
“I’m starting nice and slow, I’m getting some customers now and I’m going through the motions. Now, it’s about time to start some marketing and start trying to generate more revenue,” Beck said. “I wouldn’t have done this without E-Seed. E-Seed gives you the tools and shows you the door, but you have to learn from what they show you and walk through those doors when the opportunity arises.”
In the 13-plus years since it was founded, the Venture Center’s entrepreneur-education programs like E-Seed and, its bigger sister, the Pro-Seed business-model development program for established businesses, have helped entrepreneurs start 320 businesses that presently employ between 1,500 and 2,000 people throughout Northeast Wisconsin.
The success of courses like E-Seed and Pro-Seed have also earned the Venture Center one of seven $20,000 grants from Sam’s Club and the National Association of Community College Entrepreneurship to help small, Main Street businesses reach the next level of sales.
Now, E-Seed itself has become the brand with an opportunity to grow and the Venture Center is the entrepreneur.
Amy Pietsch, the center’s director, said it has started to license the E-Seed curriculum and program to other community colleges, technical colleges and economic development agencies around the country as a way to foster more entrepreneurship and generate revenue for the center, which does not receive taxpayer dollars from FVTC.
Organizations can buy a license to offer the 12-week course to local business owners and entrepreneurs, but Pietsch said those groups are encouraged to share anuy improvements and innovations they make so as to improve the product.
“The one thing we knew about the entrepreneurship environment was we would be the little player in a big space. We had to be open to a lot of people coming back to us with ideas to make it better,” Pietsch said. “We do apply what we learn and teach here. We’re not making it up.”
The early response has been good. To date, FVTC spokesman Chris Jossart said, three community colleges in the Midwest and one entrepreneurial hub have already bought licenses to use E-Seed.
“It’s developed into such a proven product that’s simple yet personal,” Jossart said. “It’s always fresh, it’s always real and it makes very complex issues very simple.”
In addition, FVTC has reduced the cost of E-Seed by almost 50 percent, to $750, to make it more affordable for entrepreneurs to enroll.
Tina Schuelke said E-Seed has remained a key component in her small-business support network since she founded Change Management Communications Center last year. The training she got through E-Seed and the support of the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh’s Small Business Development Center recently helped her win a $5,000 prize in the Northeast Wisconsin Business Plan Competition.
“Once I got started with E-Seed, I realized all my attempts at business plans — and I thought I had a good one going into it — were weak. This gave me a really strong start,” Schuelke said. “This is my first business launch. Now that I have those courses as a foundation, I’m already thinking about other businesses I want to start or become a part of.”