Opening the GATE to Business Success

Program Fosters Strategies for Start-Ups
Job displacement is a harsh reality that many people have been forced to face over the past few years.

But a new government project is designed to help foster new strategies for those who have been laid off. The Richmond GATE project, funded by a Department of Labor grant, seeks to bring displaced workers back into the workforce by helping to give them the necessary tools to start new small businesses in Virginia.

Project Richmond GATE (Growing America Through Entrepreneurship) began in July and will continue during the next two years.

“The demographic of people we’re working with – 45 years and older – they’ve been hit the hardest by the massive layoffs,” said Wesley Smith, the project’s director. “It’s pretty much a job creation program, trying to get these people back to work and hopefully start a new business and hire more people.”

The project offers several classes and workshops giving these hopeful business owners the advice and tools they’ll need to be successful. The classes range from building business plans to learning bookkeeping and accounting.

The classes and workshops are free to participants, who also are connected with a counselor to assist them. Free consultation from business experts is included as well.

A partnership with the Community College Workforce Alliance allows for many of the classes. The CCWA is a workforce development program of J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College and John Tyler Community College that offers non-credit training to corporate, government and non-profit clients, as well as individuals.

“We offer non-credit training, skills assessment, and other services to employers who need to send their staff to us for workplace training,” said Nina Sims, director of marketing and sales for the CCWA. “That ranges from computer training to the area of manufacturing, business communication, writing, strategic planning and leadership.”

Jim Hribar was among the first participants accepted into the program at its start in July. He is currently involved with the program and is in the beginning stages of
opening his own small business, Uniquely Fore Her, a women’s golf apparel store.

“The facilities we have with the CCWA, with GATE, are helpful. Just to be able to meet with other people and have the classroom setting that is very professional, like you’re in a corporate setting,” Hribar said.

Displaced workers interested in the program may attend an information session, learn more about the project and its focus. If they’re interested in participating, they may submit an application at that time. Applicants are randomly selected by a third party company, and if accepted, start the training by meeting with a counselor.

“When we first met with the business counselor, we go through some parameters trying to understand the strengths and weaknesses of yourself and the things you want to do for your business,” Hribar said. “The counselor can basically take this data and figure out where you’re at in your business, where you can start and what other resources you need to start your business.”

The current recession may raise questions for some about whether now is a good time to start a new business. But Hribar believes that the timing is great, especially with a project such as GATE to help.

“It’s kind of an opportune time,” Hribar said. “It doesn’t happen overnight; sometimes it takes months to plan ideas and to get whatever you’re going to do for your business started. Even though it’s a down economy, when the economy does come back, it would make your business stronger. If you can survive in this economy, then when it comes back up you’ll be able to survive for sure.”

Hribar, while still involved in the beginning stages of opening his business, believes one of the best things about the GATE program is the group environment it offers. The program’s participants can share ideas and suggestions with each other, and the counselors are always available for the participants to speak with, even after finishing.

The GATE project was implemented in 2002 in other states. Officials hope that the second round of the project, which includes Virginia, will enjoy similar success. The main focus of project organizers now is getting more people involved.

Orientation sessions for the Richmond GATE project are held twice a month. Those interested in gathering the tools needed for small business ownership are encouraged to attend. For details, visit http://www.RichmondGate.org.
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