The Community Entrepreneurship Program – an innovative University of St. Thomas initiative aimed at supporting business ventures by women and BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and people of color) entrepreneurs – is preparing to expand after attracting more than $1 million in new funding.
Thanks to the efforts of Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith the university is receiving $630,000 from the recent federal appropriations bill. Combined with a new $500,000 grant from the GHR Foundation, the funding will allow the Community Entrepreneurship Program to more than double its reach in 2023 and strengthen its core mission.
The 10-month, hands-on program is offered in conjunction with the Small Business Development Center (housed within the Opus College of Business) and the Schulze School of Entrepreneurship.
“The momentum behind this program comes from what we can bring to entrepreneurs: It’s a way to build generational wealth despite past economic challenges,” said Diane Paterson, director of the Small Business Development Center and co-leader of the program. “When you think about participants going through this extensive, high-engagement program, that’s a lot of community impact and a lot of investment in small business ownership.”
The program launched in 2022 with a cohort of 30 aspiring entrepreneurs and quickly gained attention for its unique approach to supporting undervalued communities across the Twin Cities. With the new funding, the program will add additional cohorts and build out its network of resources.
“This program is all about supporting entrepreneurs and their dream to become small business owners. We couldn’t be more thrilled to see that effort attract the support of our senators in Washington and the GHR Foundation,” Associate Dean of the Schulze School of Entrepreneurship Sheneeta White said. “Put simply, these new funds will bring dreams into reality, and in turn, impact lives throughout our communities.”
Entrepreneurs participate in a business training boot camp, receive one-on-one mentoring, work with St. Thomas students who offer business consulting services and have the chance to apply for a microgrant to establish critical start-up capital.
The entire process is designed to give aspiring business owners the time and tools necessary to get off the ground successfully. And once entrepreneurs complete the formal 10-month program, the support doesn’t go away. Wrapped in a cocoon of support and resources for years to come, alumni are offered continuing education opportunities.
“I think the participants also appreciate the fact that they are being listened to,” Paterson said. “There are some participants who’ve heard ‘no’ quite a bit. Here we’re trying to emphasize, ‘yes.’”
Enrollment for the next cohort of the Community Entrepreneurship Program is currently open and accepting applications. Entrepreneurs who either have an idea for a business or have already started a venture are welcome to apply.