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Elgin Area Small Business Academy

The Elgin Area Small Business Network, founded three years ago with the goal of promoting and nurturing small businesses in the Elgin area through the sharing of experiences and best practices, will take the next step in its evolution in January 2016 when it launches the Elgin Area Small Business Academy (EASBA).

The Academy will enroll between 15 and 25 potential entrepreneurs and new entrepreneurs who will meet for two hours on the third Thursday evening of each month for six months, beginning in January. During those sessions, participants and their mentors will be focused on experiential learning and building a network of local resources, service providers, and businesspeople who can advise them in the future, according to Keith Rauschenberger, owner of Rauschenberger Financial Advisors and Elgin Area Chamber Board Member spearheading the formation of the Academy.

“We will cover everything from writing a business plan to marketing to sales and beyond. I envision that a typical session will involve about 15 minutes of lecture on a subject and then small group break-out sessions during which entrepreneurs can interact with experienced businesspeople who have successfully navigated the topic of the evening and have tips and advice to share,” Rauschenberger explained.

By the end of the program, it is hoped that each entrepreneur will have amassed a list of between 15 and 20 contacts to whom they feel they can turn for help in the months and years ahead. Rauschenberger expects that program alumni will keep in touch with one another to offer support and will volunteer to help mentor others who follow them.

“Everyone involved in teaching the first session is volunteering their services; has been involved and successful in the entrepreneurial, small business world; and believes in our ‘learning by doing and helping each other succeed’ philosophy,” he said.

This Academy plan was prompted, according to Rauschenberger, by research published recently by the Kaufman Foundation in Kansas City, which indicates that small business owners are usually so focused on their businesses that they are isolated and cut-off from others. Therefore, the researchers at Kaufman suggest that rather than issuing venture funds and offering business incubators, the best way for municipalities and Chambers of Commerce to assist entrepreneurs is to help them create networks and connections among themselves and to offer opportunities for experiential learning.

Consequently, he said, the EASBA will be modeled after the award-winning Elgin Area Leadership Academy which has been teaching individuals how to become active and engaged community leaders and volunteers since 1990. Nearly 500 community leaders have graduated from this award-winning program coordinated through the Elgin Area Chamber.

“Our ultimate goal is to create a community of small business leaders in Elgin who can help each other grow their businesses and succeed here,” Rauschenberger added.

A nominal fee will be charged for the course in order to cover materials and refreshments. The Academy will be offered under the auspices of the Elgin Area Chamber with participation open to all entrepreneurs. Students will be chosen based on an application and interview.

“If this initial session is successful, then we will offer an advanced course for entrepreneurs who have been in business for five or 10 years and are ready to take their businesses to the next level,” Rauschenberger said.

“Small businesses are at the heart of our business community and are the engine of economic growth in our region,” said Carol Gieske, President and CEO of the Elgin Area Chamber. “Seventy-seven percent of our members are small businesses. EAC is here to support small business and help them open the door to connections and resources.”

For more information about the Academy, visit www.elginchamber.com.

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