Being Your Own Boss by Stacie Hargis

mcc_entreneurs-cover324.jpgLike many Middlesex students, I too was once working and paying my way through community college. At times it was a struggle; I wasn’t sure that the direction I was headed in was definitely where I wanted to be, but I knew I had to keep pushing forward. After eight years, I proudly graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Florida Atlantic University.

I left the university with a passion for art and prepared to work as a graphic designer. What I did not know was how ill prepared I was for the actual operations of being a freelance artist. I had no comprehension that I was in fact a business, or how to operate in a way to make my business sustainable. I quickly took the stable job at a graphic design firm rather than continue to pursue freelance work. But looking back, I can’t  help but wonder how my path might have been different if I had had a better understanding of the foundational steps for success in a small business.

However, my entrepreneurial spirit has never left. Over time, I realized my true passion was in working on issues related to income self-sufficiency. So I went back to school to earn various certificates and a Masters of Economic and Social Development from UMass Lowell. After graduation I went to work for Congresswoman Tsongas, focusing on economic development and small business. This experience led to a growing interest in self-sufficiency and access to capital for disadvantaged populations. I took a job as director of the Merrimack Valley Small Business Center, which started and capitalized a microloan fund. That microloan fund was specifically for low to moderate-income entrepreneurs who had capacity for business success but lacked access to funding.

There is power in being your own boss, being able to build your own enterprise from scratch and being able to take care of your family.

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At the Merrimack Valley Small Business Center, I was able to run a non-profit organization with all the same activities and needs of a for-profit business — providing services, raising funds, bookkeeping, budgeting, marketing, etc. I also had the constant pleasure of working with interesting community members who wanted to grow and start small businesses to support their families. There is power in being your own boss, being able to build your own enterprise from scratch and being able to take care of your family. This is truly where my passions, interests, and experience collided — this is what excites me about small business!

I was constantly inspired by the small businesses we have in the Greater Lowell area. Eventually I became interested in the actual curriculum to help small businesses launch. I have been fortunate enough to find a home here at Middlesex to concentrate on this aspect. We recently started a new program for those looking to create their own small business called “Launch Your Business Now,” which helps students develop skills and strategies to launch or grow a business within 4-6 months. Upon completion of the three required courses, students become eligible to compete for up to $20,000 in start-up capital for their business.

IMG_1428“Launch Your Business Now” is funded by the Everyday Entrepreneur Venture Fund (EEVF), who have awarded MCC a $250,000 grant. MCC is one of only four colleges in the U.S. to receive an EEVF grant. The award is the first venture-fund grant in Massachusetts to be used exclusively to launch small community-based entrepreneurs.

Local small businesses are the heart and soul of communities. They are the ones that provide jobs to our neighbors and families. They are the ones that give back to the community by sponsoring events and giving donations. They are everyday entrepreneurs. With Small Business Saturday coming up on November 24, it reminds me again to “put my money where my heart is”, and for me, that’s here in Lowell.

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