Helping businesses get on their feet

Business is booming for purveyors of any advice or service that a would-be entrepreneur might seek. Business start-up classes are straining at the doors. Advice agency staffers field streams of faces, worried or hopeful.

All players point to the same force spurring closet entrepreneurs into action: The down economy.

This scene is a new phenomenon, said Deborah Prout, president and chief executive officer at Nevada MicroEnterprise Initiative. Six months ago, she noticed a shift in clientele, with more dislocated workers coming in for aid. These days, busy Initiative staffers field 200 visits a month.

Rod Jorgenson, a counselor at Small Business Development Center, a service offered through the College of Business at University of Nevada, Reno, said, "Every time we have a downturn, people tend to come out of the woodwork. In a down economy people who have pent-up desires to own a business move in that direction."

"But this time they're more desperate," Jorgenson said. "Now there are not a lot of alternatives. People are looking for a way to feed the family."

Donna Crooks, senior business development manager at Economic Development Agency of Western Nevada, said, "Folks who lost jobs turn to an idea they'd always had."

The agency hears from individuals wanting to fly ideas " from restaurant to concierge to online services. But too often, said Prout, in their haste to get started, entrepreneurs forget the feasibility analysis: Is this a viable business?

Judy Harr, chair of northern Nevada chapter of SCORE (the Service Corps of Retired Executives) warns people away "unless you have a niche that's recession proof."

Potentially promising categories, she says, include "getting your nails done. It's inexpensive, whereas you might not do a massage anymore. And people have to eat."

Still, Jorgenson predicts a 50-50 chance of success for today's start-ups.

"More of those entrepreneurs have good skill sets, as this recession has hit more white-collar folks than those of the past," he said. Potential entrepreneurs appear to know what they're facing.

Would-be business owners are packing classes of all colors. SCORE, for instance, offers four orientations a month.

"They're packed," says Harr. "We've never seen them so full."

She points to layoffs, but also to existing business owners looking to survive. A recent business survival workshop filled in just four days. Another is planned.

Fear is filling classes, says Gary Valiere, professor of entrepreneurship at University of Nevada, Reno. He points to double the number of students and says, "People have less confidence in their future; a sense they must do something; be active and get moving."

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