Course strives to spread business spirit, resources

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All too often, entrepreneurs flock to metropolitan areas to connect with valuable resources. A course held at Barton College this week seeks to bring resources into communities throughout the state, including Wilson.

“The undeniable reality is the Triangle is fortunate to have an abundance of resources and organizations and networks to support the entrepreneurial ambition of people,” said Thom Ruhe, CEO of the N.C. Idea Foundation. “As you get out of the immediate Triangle area, that becomes more anemic. I feel there is a greater need and we can have a greater impact here.”

The Ice House training from the Entrepreneurial Learning Initiative and N.C. Idea covers eight life lessons from successful entrepreneurs and this week those skills were taught to 50 participants who will go on to teach the curriculum in their respective communities.

“Who Owns the Ice House” was written “to tell the inspirational story of an unlikely entrepreneur in the Mississippi Delta at the height of Jim Crow,” Ruhe said. “Cleve Morman was an African American gentleman with a fourth-grade education in a part of the country that was not supporting people of color in a business capacity and yet he thrived.”

Morman shared his experience with his nephew, Clifton Taulbert, who partnered with Gary Schoeniger — the founder of Entrepreneurial Learning Initiative — to write the book.

“It all starts with lesson one and the power of choice. We help participants realize where they are in life is a choice and they are not just the victim of their circumstances,” Ruhe said. “If you choose to do online gaming eight hours a day, you’ve made a choice to do that instead of investing in yourself and your development. The entrepreneurial mindset rests on self empowerment and the need to be more judicious with the power of choice.”

Gig East Exchange manager Darren Smith completed the training in Durham this spring, but this week was the first time the course was taught elsewhere. Wilson Chamber of Commerce President Ryan Simons took the course with the goal of using the curriculum to develop a local course for entrepreneurs. Simons said entrepreneurs frequently turn to the chamber for resources, but staff usually just directs them to the Wilson Community College Small Business Center.

“Oftentimes these start-ups are in the preliminary stage and they are still figuring out what they need. The training that was provided speaks exactly to those folks who come looking for that assistance,” Simons said. “It is about getting them in the right state of mind to pursue their dreams and if the chamber can have a role in that, we ought to do it.”

Ruhe said the ‘entrepreneurial mindset’ with a focus on finding opportunities and persevering through struggles is universal and applicable to folks beyond just those interested in starting a business. In fact, Wilson County Public Library Assistant Director Amanda Gardner was among the majority of the participants who represent libraries across the state. Gardner said the Ice House curriculum will be at the heart of a library and Small Business Center partnership class that kicks off on Sept. 4 and runs through Oct. 23 on Wednesday nights. Visit tinyurl.com/yb2cbyx2 or call the center at 252-237-1668 to learn more.

“We like to extend our reach in the business community, but we also want to promote an entrepreneurial mindset even for those who are not necessarily pursuing a business degree because changing their mindset can help them succeed in life,” Gardner said. “I hope this curriculum helps anyone realize they have it within themselves to be successful, whether they are finding a great job, being successful in school, starting a business or leading a family.”

Ruhe said there is a wait list for the next training that will likely happen around the new year west of the Triangle. The hope is the curriculum will be spread to 100,000 people across the state in the near future.

“Entrepreneurship is universal. Ideas of high potential are not geographically limited, gender limited or racially limited,” he said. “We’re all hard-wired equally to have the potential to serve one another. What is not equal is access to the networks, resources and knowledge to activate that entrepreneurial potential in all of us and that is why I love doing this course outside of the Triangle.”