News Column

Entrepreneur Boot Camp Turns Ideas Into Money

September 6, 2013
restaurant owner

Seven years ago, Karen Schupack thought about starting an art studio but realized she didn't have the business background to succeed.

Then she went to boot camp.

The Albany resident opened her retail art studio in 2007. Next month, she will move her business of hosting classes and art parties into a larger building on New Scotland Avenue.

Schupack is one of nearly 700 people who have graduated from the Albany-Colonie Regional Chamber of Commerce's Entrepreneur Boot Camp since 1990, and she credits the program for her success.

"I didn't have a business background," she said. "I think that's the case of a lot of people who come to that program. ... To translate an idea, I needed that help from the chamber."

The boot camp has proven its worth. Of 24 programs in the state, the Albany-Colonie chamber's received the Award of Excellence from Empire State Development in 2008, 2011 and now 2013.

Entrepreneurship Manager Janet Tanguay said Empire State Development judges the programs on various factors, including how many businesses are started by participants, the volume of sales by those businesses and how many minority and women-owned businesses are certified.

In Tanguay's eight years as manager, she said the program has had a 51 percent success rate, 41 percentage points higher than the national average for similar programs. Nationally, only 10 percent succeed, she said.

Among those successes is Denise Deitz-Morgan, who graduated from the program in 2005 and looked to open her first Snipits children's haircuts franchise in Guilderland in 2010. She recently purchased her second franchise in Clifton Park.

Deitz-Morgan said two of the course's biggest assets were help to develop a business plan and networking with those in the business community. That networking came in handy when she looked to purchase her franchises because the chamber helped her set up financing.

Other recent graduates have had successes, too, like Tracy Cornwell, who started her Giddy Up bus transportation service earlier this summer.

"It was the key to my success," she said. "I wouldn't have been able to start it as fast as I did without taking the course. It really hit every possible question that you could possibly have."

Cornwell has a business degree, but she said the course has much more to offer.

"I had a four-year degree in business, but I felt like I didn't learn anything in college after taking this course because it was so hands on," she said, adding that having a business idea rather than taking general courses made a difference as well.

Still, nearly half of all attendees don't start or fail at starting a business. Frank Lombardo of Saratoga graduated from the course with Cornwell in spring 2012 but has moved slowly in starting his "universal peace" dance business. He has used his training, though, and called the class useful in more ways than just starting a business. In addition to using his training to help turn the Saratoga Stryders running club, of which he is president, into a nonprofit organization, he has also become a small-time investor in other businesses started by some of his classmates, including Cornwell.

"It was a good thing because, for me, I can help out some ideas that I like that I might not be able to implement, and I can make a little money," he said. "It's an indirect way to get involved with the business world."

mhamilton@timesunion.com, 518-454-5431, @matt_hamilton10

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