At long last, I am back in my room after the opening afternoon of the 2008 National Association for Community College Entrepreneurship convention at The Westin La Cantera in San Antonio, Texas. The are sessions about entrepreneurship programs at schools around the country as well as ones on management/supervisory issues, for-profit ventures at two-year colleges, fundraising, e-marketing, and more. (A whole lot more!) I’ve been interested in coming here to figure out more that I need to know in running our publishing start-up, find resources for our interns who want to be freelancers, see what might be of interest to TSTC in terms of offering entrepreneurial training, and, as always of course, scout around for book projects.
For the second trip in a row—just a couple of weeks ago was the apocryphal journey to New York City—I’m in room with a mini bar. Thankfully, this one is safely locked up—I didn’t even bother to get the key to it—as opposed to the last one that had a bunch of stuff set out on sensors on the dresser so if you picked up anything for more than 20 seconds you’d be charged for it. I kept worrying the whole time that I’d get up in the middle of the night, accidentally knock everything over in the dark, and wind up being charged hundreds of dollars for dusty cans of almonds.
But, it’s certainly been a long two days. Yesterday I spent of total of seven hours driving the 460 miles to Sweetwater and back to deliver books before driving another three hours and 200 miles this morning to get here from Waco. (Then again, I was lucky enough to be in one of the school’s new SUVs with a CD player in it so I was able to get caught up on all the Rage Against the Machine albums I hadn’t listened to in a while.) I’m not sure what it is about driving long distances that is just incredibly draining, but there it is nonetheless. When I got back on Saturday afternoon I even broke down and went to the gym to strap myself to the elliptical trainer for a good while. (Anyone who knows me also knows that going to any gym anywhere at five on a Saturday afternoon is just about the absolutely last thing I want to do.) Anyway, my feet! My gosh! My feet! After all that driving they were swollen up like footballs!
After picking up my registration materials this afternoon and getting (thankfully!) an early check-in for my room, there were a few things on tap to do. First, I had to locate the hotel’s fitness center and find an elliptical trainer to strap myself to tomorrow morning. Then, it was on an extra session I signed up for detailing a client assessment program for dealing with budding entrepreneurs. Finally, there was a first-time attendee orientation meeting after that.
The Sunday afternoon session I went to was “Innovative Client Assessment Tool Helps Service Providers Focus” presented by Andrew (Andy) Clark, Manager of the Center for Entrepreneurship at Northeast Wisconsin Technical College. He had a lot of good things to say and the thrust of his presentation had to do with his development of an assessment tool for budding entrepreneurs in order to determine their capabilities (or, lack thereof) in six key areas: technical skills, industry knowledge, advertising/promotion, ability to manage resources, financial strength, and salesmanship. Each category is rated on a scale of 1-17 so that, when added up in the end, you get the overall percentage on a scale of 100 showing this person’s entrepreneurial strength. Then, he can work with people to build them up the areas they’re weak in—coaching, classes, additional work experience, or whatever else as the case may be—to give them the best shot possible to be successful.
When it was all said and done, I came away with a couple of firm conclusions. First, given that so many of our students want to be freelancers and/or own their own businesses, the school needs to be offering classes along these lines. (Then again, I have to wonder if, in theory, this would violate the mission of the school: to provide trained workers to meet the needs of Texas employers. After all, if you’re training people to work for themselves, how does this help out existing businesses? I’m not saying I find this an insoluble point, but it’s one that probably be considered at some length by the powers that be.) Second, Andy’s presentation really showed my overall lack of preparation to move straight out of an English department to run a business start-up. Not that we’re not doing okay but my lack of training/preparation—everything from managing employees to financial statements and budgets to marketing—didn’t make any of this any easier. At the very least, given that the school is interested—and rightly so in my mind!—in generating revenue from for-profit ventures to offset decreasing amounts of funding, it would behoove everyone involved to offer entrepreneurship training to employees as well as students to give these initiatives the best chance possible to succeed.
All that being said, it’s almost seven o’clock and I must now hurl myself at the bed to get ready for tomorrow!
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