Aspiring entrepreneurs from the Dothan area recently wrapped up a 6-week Dothan Community Entrepreneurship Bootcamp co-hosted by Troy University’s Sorrell College of Business and the University of Alabama-Birmingham’s Marnix E. Heersink Institute for Biomedical Innovation.
Lynne Firmin George, Director of TROY’s IDEA Bank, said the program morphed into a multi-faceted partnership with the adaptation of a program developed by the University of Notre Dame and with the inclusion of The Entrepreneurship Council.
“Faculty from UAB reached out to us about partnering to bring the program to Dothan, and we have really embraced the opportunity to get faculty involved and bring something impactful to the Dothan area,” she said. “This started as an IDEA Bank partnership, but has evolved tremendously.”
Held at Health Center South in Dothan, the Dothan Community Entrepreneurship Program seeks to help those in the Dothan area facing economic or other hardships to start and/or grow a business of their own. The program in its entirety lasts 12 months, and after the boot camp session follows 18 weeks of mentoring and 14 weeks of consulting, including assistance with research and identifying funding.
Program participants benefited from an intense, hands-on exposure to the fundamentals of launching and growing a successful venture, taught by seasoned faculty, subject matter experts and successful entrepreneurs. Topics covered in the Community Bootcamp addressed all facets of a successful venture, ranging from the development of a viable business concept to understanding your market, designing your profit model, setting up operations properly, marketing your venture and understanding the basic numbers.
Tara Black, Director of Development at Health Center South and Dothan Director for the Heersink Institute, said she was pleased with the success of the first program.
“We understood that local entrepreneurs were in need of support and educational tools to foster the growth of their businesses,” she said. “We also wanted to provide each student with a platform to share their ideas and to be heard by people who believe in and want to help them. The most satisfying result was the networking and relationships built amongst the class. We hope those friendships will continue to grow.”
Several Sorrell faculty members were involved as presenters, mentors and guests, including Dr. Judson Edwards, Dean of the SCOB, Dr. Stan Blankenship, Dr. Dewey Todd and Dr. Richard Voss. Juliana Bolivar, Director of TROY’s Small Business Development Center, also led a session. Rick Jenkins, The Freedom Group, Mackroyce Corbitt, Jr., Entrepreneurship Council, Dothan Mayor Mark Saliba, Dr. Marnix Heersink and Dr. Rubin Pillay, Executive Director of the Heersink Institute, among others, were also key guests.
At the conclusion of the boot camp on Saturday, April 8, participants were awarded certificates of completion and several awards were given. Marteen Lewis, owner of Earthly Wellness Bar since March 2021, earned the Audacity Award for the best unique but untested entrepreneurial idea.
“I saw this intense course was being offered for new or already established businesses that needed help in certain areas, and I knew that I needed help on the business management side, so I signed up to see where I can get help to get me to where I felt like I should be,” Lewis said. “After learning about being consistent, following a plan, making sure you give your clients an experience and representing your business well, I feel like my vision of owning a med spa could actually get brought to reality.
Wanda Helms, owner of Vonnie’s Shed since January, won the Eagle Award for the existing business idea that is most likely to soar to new heights. Vonnie’s Shed is an antique thrift boutique for upcycling vintage clothing and furniture named after Helms’ mother.
“I’d been wanting to go to the next level, but I needed help with my business plan. I didn’t really know where to start, but I saw this event being advertised and I thought, ‘This is for me,’” she said. “My biggest takeaway has been to have confidence and changing my mindset to thinking like an entrepreneur and knowing that what I’m doing can work, and this award has given me the confidence to believe that.”
Amaiyia Holmes, owner of Holmes Mobile Laundry Service, won the Vigilance Award for the best entrepreneurial idea of a conventional variety, and Sabrina Walker, owner of BodyMe by Bri, earned the Boll Weevil Award for the best proven entrepreneurial idea, based on a familiar pattern.