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Online Exclusive - Posted August 10, 2012 11:46 a.m.
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photos by Ethan Black
The WTAMU Enterprise Center works with Chefs Gerald Mondragon (left) and Christian Fanelli of Fanelli's Finest, which produces gourmet lasagna sauce.

Business for the Future

WTAMU Enterprise Center elevates small businesses to the next level

For many, the American Dream is to own a nice home and raise a family. For the more adventurous thrill-seeker, owning a business can be the dream of a lifetime. The truth is, owning a business can be both a risky investment, as well as a frightening venture due to the immense pressure to succeed and grow in an unstable economy.

In fact, Cori Burns, who serves as the Marketing Director for the Enterprise Center mentioned 98 percent of small businesses fail within the first three years. That’s an overwhelming statistic that can stop many entrepreneurs before they even get their feet off the ground.

But what if there was a support system put in place specifically tailored to the needs of first-time small business owners looking for that extra bit of motivation to make their dream a reality?

Meet the men and women of West Texas A&M University Enterprise Center, whose main objective is to see entrepreneurs succeed, and help them reach their goals through the Center’s incubation program. Cori is one of the certified professional coaches ready to take an idea through the incubation process and make it reality.

Incubation is the concept that incorporates a variety of services such as hands-on management assistance, networking and training opportunities, access to shared office services, flexible leases with expandable space, and most importantly coaching geared toward making a business thrive.

“As coaches, we have several tools that we use,” Cori explains. “We meet with them at least twice a month for at least two hours a month to work on their business. A lot of early-stage companies are very small, with a very small staff. They’re really busy working within their business making ends meet, pushing out product, doing their own marketing and book keeping. We work with them on how to make the business grow without them.”

In addition to incubation, the Enterprise Center provides a variety of different resources for businesses since its inception in 2001. The Enterprise Center was founded to take start-up and early-stage companies and help them grow by surrounding them with a multitude of resources and connections.

“This provides entrepreneurs with a model for sustainability to grow their company through this unique teaching process in order to establish a profitable and sustainable business,” says Cori.

Regardless of your business model, the incubation service can help business owners build a foundation for their ideas to flourish, she says.

One unique concept to the program is Idea Village. This six-to-eight-week curriculum allows for direct access to coaches that use a variety of tools to expand and test ideas. In addition, the coaches help explore different opportunities that help establish a financial model for success. Melissa Kalka serves as the kitchen manager and says Idea Village helps fledgling business owners be more creative in their pursuits.

“I’ve witnessed from sitting in on Idea Village that you have these entrepreneurs in there, and one of the coaches will say ‘have you thought about this,’ and it’s like watching light bulbs go off. They get excited and enthusiastic, which eliminates the fear.”

Through the incubation process and coaching provided by the Enterprise Center, you afford yourself a greater chance of long term financial success while lessening fears of failure. One concern Cori often addresses is that many entrepreneurs think they have to know it all and have every answer. She says this isn’t the case.

“Once you get comfortable in not knowing, and instead begin exploring, then that’s where you really begin to grow,” she assures.

The Enterprise Center prides itself on being a community. Within that community you have a group of successful businesses that can help alleviate your concerns because they’ve been there too.

Whether that business is Skilled Trades that decided to move the entire corporate structure from Ohio to Enterprise Center, Animal Innovations, Inc. that left Houston for the Panhandle, or Tascosa Hot Sauce that decided the Enterprise Center was what they needed to take their business to the next level, businesses gain an advantage in a very unique setting.

This community also has an x-factor that may make the Enterprise Center irresistible to many. The Amarillo EnterPrize Challenge is funded by the Amarillo Economic Development Corporation that gives businesses the chance to receive grants of up to $100,000 to fund their business. That in itself can eliminate a huge burden from anyone worried about the financial aspect of growing a business, Cori claims.

For those still worried about that statistic of 98 percent of businesses failing within the first year, the Enterprise Center has a stat of their own. Of the Center’s clients, more than 75 percent are still in business today.

This success can be traced back to coaching and resources offered by coaches who currently own, or have owned a business. Cori operates the marketing consulting company Kinetic Marketing while Melissa owned the Kitchen Gallery which was in business for more than twenty years. In other words, they know the struggles facing small businesses.

Aug. 9 marked the grand opening of the WTAMU Enterprise Center’s Culinary Coop. This is the only shared-use kitchen available in the area. For new businesses like Fanelli’s Finest, this allows the owners the chance to make their dreams come true by manufacturing their gourmet sauce. Melissa believes that using a shared kitchen is a rare opportunity.

“Being able to rent a commercial kitchen by the hour is pretty incredible. It’s our best-kept secret that we don’t want to be a secret anymore,” she says.

Whether you own, or have the concept for a new business, have a passion to manufacture food or provide a specific service beneficial to our region, the WTAMU Enterprise Center has the necessary strategies and resources to make your business grow and hopefully one day thrive. All that is left is to make the decision to take a leap of faith and make a dream become a reality.

by Ethan Black

Ethan is currently finishing his graduate degree in Sport Management from West Texas A&M University, with an emphasis on Sport Sociology and Marketing. In his spare time, he enjoys playing sports and spending time with family and friends.
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