Fostering Entrepenuerial Spirit in Underserved Communities

Posted by Miriam Axel-Lute on October 23, 2014

A few years ago, I had what I thought was a great business idea. After much excited Googling and resource combing, I came across a seven week small business training program that was being offered through my town, at my local library. The training, run by the Institute for Entrepreneurial Leadership, was only open to people who were unemployed. I was freelancing at the time and had just had a baby, so I qualified.

I was in a class of 15 budding entrepreneurs, and we were a mixed group in every sense of the word, by race, gender, and education level. We practiced our "elevator pitches," wrote business plans, and listened as special guests including insurance agents, bank loan officers, accountants, and marketing experts told us what we needed to do to get our businesses off to the right start. The information was exciting, terrifying, and necessary, because it helped me realize that not only was I nowhere near ready to launch a business, I was also unsure whether I even wanted to.

Due to local zoning laws, the nature of my business would have required a separate, commercial space in which to operate. When it became clear the amount of resources--of time and money--required to turn my idea into reality, I decided to file it away and turn my attention back to freelancing and caring for my new baby. I cannot overstate the benefit of going through what turned out to be a pretty rigorous program, however, and know that for many of my classmates the program only reinforced their desire to become their own boss for good.

Because of this education, I now have a clearer understanding why (and how) people with limited or no resources get their business off to a "wrong" start and stay that way. In class, we were told that without an attorney, without an accountant, without a business banking account, your investment is constantly at risk. This is true, but what was not discussed was that each of these necessities came with a cost; and many people who are starting their own business aren't doing it because they want to be home with young children or have grown tired of a long commute, it is because they have no money and are trying to generate income for themselves. Permanent unemployment or chronic underemployment is the alternative for some of these entrepreneurs; and so despite the risk, they decide to empower themselves by taking their skills and selling them within their community. Within the underserved community, these "under the table" entrepeneurs are the engines, and their creativity and resourcefulness should be fostered, not marginalized.

Entrepreneurial programs like the one described in this web exclusive article on Shelterforce online are crucial, not only for the individual entrepreneur, but for their families and the communities they serve. When given realistic tools to document their business and begin building real assets, most of these entrepreneurs will take that opportunity.

If you run or are affiliated with a similar program, please tell us about it here.

About the author more »

Miriam Axel-Lute is editor of Shelterforce and associate director of the National Housing Institute. Her email is miriam at nhi dot org.

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