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Regional Economic Development Partnership Bringing Back CO.STARTERS Entrepreneurship Program This Fall

Both aspiring entrepreneurs and experienced business owners in Wheeling have the opportunity to learn how best to position their products and ideas for a new era.

Applications are now being accepted for the sixth round of CO.STARTERS — a 10-week education program for entrepreneurs and small business owners organized by the Regional Economic Development Partnership (RED).

RED will continue to accept applications until Wednesday, September 22 or until the first 12 people sign up for classes. Classes begin Sept. 29 and continue through the next 10 weeks, with students having off the week of Thanksgiving. Classes are on Wednesdays from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.

Ohio County Commissioner Zach Abraham, co-partner in the AlignHR human resource firm, will serve as facilitator for the CO.STARTERS program.

The program seeks to equip entrepreneurs of all kinds with the insights, relationships and tools needed to turn business ideas into action, according to Valerie Piko, program development manager with RED.

More than 50 local residents already are graduates of past sessions of CO.STARTERS, she said.

“It’s not just for people who are at the beginning phases of a new business,” Piko explained. “It can be for somebody who has been in business 20 years and just wants to spice things up or wants to offer something new.”

Classes will focus on a different topic each week.. These include understanding customer needs, marketing, accounting, and legal advice.

Students also will learn about raising capital, and finding funding sources, according to Piko.

Guest speakers — many of them CO.STARTERS graduates — will be scheduled for each session to discuss the topic.

“At the end, you really have a business plan put together,” she said.

Piko said CO.STARTERS is not a lecture-based course. Much of the learning comes through group discussions, with participants telling of what methods have worked and not worked at their business.

“Someone will come to the group with a challenge, and someone else will chime in to say, ‘This is what I have done,'” Piko said. “It gives everybody in the group a sounding board, as well.”

The program involves nine weeks of curriculum, and during the 10th week participants present their business pitches before the group to gain practice. Participants also discuss what they’ve learned in the class, and give an update on what their plans are for the future.

“I want people to know they can always reach out for help,” Piko said. “Sometimes people think because they have been in business a number of years (think there isn’t room for improvement.) Taking some time to step back and work on business is good for everyone.”

“It is important for people to remember to take time and look at the big picture, and that can go a long way. We’ve had many people who have done the program say they are thankful they did,” she said.

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