“In business, it’s all about who you know.” It’s an old adage that seems especially true in start-up phases, when a mentor or network can mean the difference between success and failure.
Stepping in to meet that need is an Atlanta pilot program called Realize, launched last year by the Gigot Center for Entrepreneurial Studies to link low-income entrepreneurs with alumni mentors, training, networking, and local nonprofit assistance.
Undergrads and MBAs reviewed business plans to help pick finalists for the program, which aims to reach more than 100 microenterprises by the end of 2005. Eligible microenterprises must be in the “second stage of growth,” explains Rachel George (’03, ’97), Gigot’s project manager for the program. Typically, this requires at least three years in business, stable cash flows, and proven sustainability. Current participants sell everything from balloons for event decorating to maintenance products for municipalities.
In addition to an annual networking and training event, Realize recently piloted an on-line mentoring service called PeerNet to link entrepreneurs to mentors who are concerned for their success and able to open doors to information and other resources to help their businesses grow.
George says Realize could become a model for alumni clubs and business schools throughout the country. But the mentors involved also view it as an opportunity to put faith into action. “Microenterprise has proven time and time again to be a successful model for poverty alleviation and self-sufficiency for so many low-income entrepreneurs in the U.S. It creates a sense of the possible in a whole new way for so many individuals looking to break the cycle of poverty,” George says.