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What do white potato pie, interior design and a golf club have in common? The answer is not a clever riddle, but the entrepreneurial spirit fostered by the Eastern Shore Economic Council (ESEC). These budding businesses—and others—got their start through a course sponsored by ESEC that connects like-minded venturers and helps them hone their business idea.
Part of a 10-week course offered by ShoreVenture, the training arm of Eastern Shore Economic Council, participants learn all aspects of starting a business, from marketing to obtaining funding. The curriculum was designed by the Kauffman Foundation, an organization dedicated to individual economic independence and entrepreneurial success, and guides participants through writing a viable business plan.
Local business owners—including Out of the Fire’s Amy Haines and Darnell Thomas of Darnell's Grill—speak on successes, failures and pitfalls along the way. Weekly topics include identifying market needs, setting financial goals, product/service planning, and management and organization.
The course is led by ESEC Executive Director, Michael Thielke. Thielke calls himself a “serial entrepreneur”, beginning his foray into business at age 23 with an export management firm. Since then, he has started international transportation and distribution businesses as well as a defense contracting firm in Virginia.
Passionate about the Shore’s potential as an “entrepreneurial ecosystem,” Thielke envisions an environment where “resources and capacity support starting businesses and create jobs.” The Shore Venture training course offered twice yearly at Chesapeake College is a vehicle for such support.
Past participants include Easton interior designer Elizabeth Kelly, owner of Sanctuary Interiors LLC, which specializes in transforming clients’ quality of life through evidence-based design practices. Having already established a business, Kelly took the course as a “refresher on the whole process.” Noting that guest speakers included representatives from funding resources, the information gave her a realistic view on several other percolating business ideas.
Kelly recommends the class “to determine if you’ve got a good idea or not.” She continued: “It helps people to know if they are passionate enough.” Though her business was already underway, she found herself revising her mission after some reflection about what could help clients most.
Another graduate of ShoreVenture is Matt Fitzgerald, one of the new owners of River House, the Easton Club’s renovated restaurant and golf club. Another Easton couple, Cornelia and Allen Baltimore, began a white potato pie business after taking the ShoreVenture course, selling their winning family recipe at local farmers’ markets.
In an economic climate that has many Shore residents grateful for any employment, is it the right time to think about starting a new business? Thielke says that although traditional funding through banks is tight, “Nontraditional financing with mechanisms such as revolving loan funds, is very available, but again only to credible business concept and plans.”
According to the Kauffman Foundation, more Americans became entrepreneurs during the current recession than at any time in the past 15 years. Echoing that trend here in Maryland, a study by the Greater Baltimore Technology Council and the Maryland Department of Business & Economic Development found that the one-third of all business owners in the state got their start in the last three years. These newest business owners are also likely to be under age 35 and African- American.
Here on the Shore, Thielke sees entrepreneurship as the gateway to a better life. “We used to live where we worked. Now we can work where we live.” Instead of buying into the idea that all of the good jobs are an hour-long commute away, creating a small business may be the answer to combining a love of place and a particular passion. “Because of technology, it makes it so much easier to prioritize where you want to live and then figure out a way to make a living.”
The next Shore Venture 10-week entrepreneurial training class begins Wednesday, March 21st and runs until May 23rd from 6 PM to 9 PM at Chesapeake College. The cost for the course if $195, which is fully refundable upon successful completion. Scholarships are also available. Go to www.shoreventure.com to register.