Downtown Working

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October 27, 2003 // UPDATED 11:06 am - April 30, 2007
By: Elana Centor
Elana Centor

Reluctant, but successful entrepreneurs When you run out of job options, becoming master of your workplace domain can be more successful than you think

Minneapolis, an incubator of entrepreneurs?

The majority can only be considered "reluctant entrepreneurs" -- people who never saw themselves owning their own business, but because they were laid off one too many times, or are in fields with fewer jobs available, decided that the only way to earn an income is to become masters of their own domain.

As of September, approximately 75,000 people were unemployed in the Minneapolis metropolitan area. Of those, an estimated 10 percent have stopped their job search, opting instead to become entrepreneurs.

On a Monday evening, six reluctant entrepreneurs met in a local networking meeting to discuss their progress, their frustrations and their fears. Jeanne Larson, who not so long ago was a "dislocated" worker herself, facilitated the session.

One of the first women to earn a St. Thomas MBA in the '70s, Jeanne had started, bought and sold numerous businesses over the past 30 years -- primarily in health care. In 2002, Jeanne was the president of a health care consulting firm when, after returning from vacation, she was told her services were no longer needed.

Like thousands of other dislocated workers who file for unemployment, Jeanne ended up at the Minneapolis Workforce Center at 777 E. Lake St. She was assigned a job counselor and given state-funded training to help her learn new skills and get back in the workforce.

Jeanne took some much-needed computer courses. Then, her job counselor asked a fateful question: "She asked if I knew anyone who would volunteer to teach a course on self-employment," Jeanne said. "Since I didn't have anything better to do with my time, I said I would do it."

Before you could say "my unemployment is running out and what do I do next?" the counselor suggested that Jeanne start a business teaching people how to start their own businesses.

"St. Thomas and many of the community colleges offer very good programs on entrepreneurship, but my audience needs the information a lot faster than these courses offer," Jeanne explained.

Jeanne opened Incubator this year. "Over six weeks, Incubator provides participants with classes on key business issues like feasibility studies, business and marketing plans, and finance; plus we offer monthly networking sessions for participants," she said.

For the participants, the cost of taking this training -- about $1,000 per person -- is covered by the Minneapolis Workforce Center.

The participants are in various stages of entrepreneurship. Mike, a laid-off TV executive who has created TimeScape, a company that creates DVDs and videos of family histories, is looking for his first client.

Sandee, a former technical writer who now has a professional embroidery service, needs to make a capital investment in a professional sewing machine to really get her business humming.

Pat, a three-time layoffee in the architectural/design field, is trying to figure out the best way to market his services.

Dan, a former employee of the Minneapolis Teachers Union, is considering buying a brewery.

Priscilla, who spent 23 years in the IDS Center, working for one of the most prominent entrepreneurs in Downtown, has started a business to help small businesses manage their financial records. Then there's Cathy, a former video editor who is still struggling to figure out just what business she should start.

For her part, Jeanne is putting that computer training to good use. She's creating a database of all the people who take her course and plans to track their progress, to try to determine whether the program improves their odds as business owners. Those odds are not as bad as previously believed; the standard belief has been that 90 percent of all new businesses fail in the first year. Not so, according to a new study: 67 percent are successful after four years. And that's very good news for our intrepid reluctant entrepreneurs who are hoping they can be part of that winning trend.

We want to tell your story! (Confidentiality guaranteed, for you and your employer.) Please contact Elana Centor at ecentor@mn.rr.com, or leave her a message at 825-9205 (then hit 102 for her voicemail).