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Clarkson small business class reaches ninth year

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POTSDAM — For those intrepid enough to forge a small business, the north country seems an unlikely crucible — sparsely populated, relatively poor and saturated with a mixture of independent and corporate stores. However, local entrepreneurs have a powerful ally.

Clarkson University’s Reh Center for Entrepreneurship has helped place scores of entrepreneurs on the path to success through its My Small Business 101 courses.

The program, in its ninth year, teaches practical business skills, said Marc S. Compeau, Reh Center director.

“It is really an overview,” he said. “We have four weeks; we have four topics. It is really about raising awareness of the work that goes into building a business.”

Since 2004, Mr. Compeau has taught the courses throughout the north country, providing guidance to more than 800 local businesses.

“The course is actually geared to folks who are looking to strengthen their existing business or people who are looking at the basics of how to get started,” said Erin M. Draper, director of operations for the Reh Center.

The courses are meant to appeal to microenterprises, a class of small business employing fewer than 10 people. Mr. Compeau said microenterprises were a logical focus for Clarkson; according to the 2010 U.S. Census, there are 4.5 million businesses employing fewer than 10 people.

The course is divided into four two-hour sessions covering business basics. Classes typically have 50 to 70 participants who learn about marketing, financial management, resource management and strategic planning — subjects universal to business owners, no matter their size or the field they are in.

“We’ve done a lot with artists and artisans, and a lot with agriculture and farmers,” Mr. Compeau said.

More importantly, the courses bring budding entrepreneurs together in the same room to share ideas and information, Mrs. Draper said.

“One of the really powerful parts of the course is the networking that occurs between the folks in the room,” she said. “People start helping each other. That is a very powerful side effect and benefit of the course.”

Since its inception, the My Small Business 101 series has achieved an 85 percent two- and five-year business survival rate, compared with a 45 percent survival rate nationally.

“We always love to brag about those statistics,” Mr. Compeau said. “In entrepreneurship we always look at survival rate. If I call today and I call in five years and they’re still there, that is the survival rate. If a business makes it five years, that is a pretty big milestone.”

Mr. Compeau said the Reh Center shouldn’t get all the credit for his students’ success.

“I don’t think we would take any credit at all. I think it is a credit to the work ethic of these St. Lawrence County entrepreneurs,” he said. “They have a natural tendency to work through challenges. As I travel to other areas, we don’t see the same kind of grittiness.”

In the past, Clarkson students have followed up with program participants to provide business assistance as their enterprises evolve.

“It has turned into an important tool for our students because it gives them a chance to interact with actual entrepreneurs,” Mr. Compeau said. “Our students really get involved in providing some of that support.”

The next My Small Business 101 course will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. March 4, 11, and 25 and April 1 in Clarkson University’s Bertrand H. Snell Hall, Room 212, on the university’s hill campus. To register for the My Small Business 101 course, contact Mrs. Draper at 268-3995 or edraper@clarkson.edu.

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