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The Old College Try: A flood of new entrepreneurs find it often pays to go back to school

Monday, August 16, 2010   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Matthew Montoya
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By LAURA LORBER

Jordan Holt needed a business plan. So he went back to school.

A technician for a military contractor in Yuma, Ariz., Mr. Holt launched a side business last year, servicing and repairing generators—and quickly realized he would need to write up a formal plan if he ever wanted to borrow money for equipment. But after doing some online research, putting together a plan "looked complicated and overwhelming," he says.

He decided to get the help he needed from a business-plan development course at Arizona Western College in Yuma. "I was able to take everything in my head and put it down on paper," says Mr. Holt, a 29-year-old ex-Marine. "I truly think it could work."

As more newcomers like Mr. Holt take up entrepreneurship, community colleges are helping them along by offering more courses that teach the ins and outs of running a company. Along with classes on preparing plans and judging the feasibility of a business, schools offer training in everything from management to marketing. Many colleges also offer business incubators and networking events, where students can rub shoulders with local owners.

Even simply having a place to talk about ideas can be a big help. "Family will tell you that [your business concept is] a good idea, but they may be just saying that," says Mr. Holt. "When you talk to strangers, you get more of a real idea of what's going on."

The Student Body

Students have been flocking to these courses as the downturn drives people into business for themselves. Enrollment in for-credit classes in entrepreneurship jumped 40% in 2009 from 2008, according to a survey of members of the National Association for Community College Entrepreneurship, an organization in Springfield, Mass. Noncredit enrollment grew by 20% during the same period. What's more, the NACCE, which was founded in 2002, has seen membership rise to include 924 of the roughly 1,200 community colleges in the U.S.

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