By TYLER ELLYSON
KEARNEY – Abraham Hogins started Hammers for Hire in 2010 with little formal training on how to run a business.
“I just knew I wanted to work for myself,” the Kearney man said.
He had the know-how and skills to get his contracting business off the ground, but certain technical aspects were missing.
“There were just things I didn’t know,” said Hogins, who turned to the Center for Entrepreneurship and Rural Development for guidance.
The center, part of the University of Nebraska at Kearney’s College of Business and Technology, offers a plethora of resources for small business owners and aspiring entrepreneurs.
Hogins started by attending a weekend Go for Launch workshop that teaches the nuts and bolts of business startups to entrepreneurs and college students.
Over the past two years, he’s developed a mission statement and formalized a system for daily operations with assistance from the center. He meets regularly with Lisa Tschauner, the center’s director, to discuss ways to grow his business and continues to attend entrepreneurship workshops.
“It’s great to have that resource,” said Hogins, calling Tschauner an “accountability partner,” someone who pushes him to implement new plans and keep moving forward.
SMALL BUSINESS FOCUS
Hammers for Hire, which is operated as a sole proprietorship, handles smaller construction projects for homeowners and businesses and also serves as a subcontractor for larger companies such as Window World.
Hogins has four independent contractors on his crew now, and he’s hoping to double that number in the near future.
“I’m always looking for that next level,” he said.
The Hammers for Hire story is one of many Tschauner can share. She’s been with the Center for Entrepreneurship and Rural Development for almost two years, working with nearly 90 clients during that time.
Tschauner and the center help people start new businesses, develop new products and services and reach new audiences, with most of the services offered free of charge.
It’s all part of the mission to promote economic growth in Nebraska.
“Most of our jobs come from small businesses,” said Tschauner. “I think we have to have support for small businesses.”
The entrepreneurship center partners with the Nebraska Enterprise Fund to sponsor a ProTalks Lunch Box series where small business owners can get advice from experts in a number of areas, from legal issues and disaster preparedness to marketing and social media. Presentations have also been tailored for high schoolers, Kearney Area Chamber of Commerce members and Hilltop Mall tenants.
Derek Rusher, president and CEO of the Kearney Area Chamber of Commerce, credits the UNK center for its role in job creation and community development.
“Entrepreneurs are job creators, as opposed to job seekers,” he said. “With Kearney having one of the lowest unemployment rates in the state, we need entrepreneurs.”
EVENTS FOR YOUTH
UNK starts molding these future business owners at a young age. The center organizes an entrepreneurship program for fourth- and fifth-graders who operate their own lemonade stands in downtown Kearney, youths ages 10-14 can take part in a Biz Kidz Camp where they start their own business, and the New Venture Adventure event sponsored by the Enactus student entrepreneurship team at UNK challenges high schoolers to create a business model in one day.
UNK also hosts Big Idea Kearney, an annual competition where contestants pitch business proposals to established entrepreneurs and community leaders. That event, which includes community, middle school, high school and college divisions, has spread to Beatrice, Sidney and Cozad, and Tschauner hopes to eventually see it implemented at the state level.
On the academic side, the university offers an entrepreneurship minor and recently announced the launch of a new living-learning community to support innovative students and encourage them to think about starting their own businesses earlier in their UNK careers. A newly developed general studies entrepreneurship course accompanies that program.
“I think that entry-level course is really going to feed into our entrepreneurship program and a lot of the other programs we have,” Tschauner said.
FOCUS GROUPS, MARKET RESEARCH
Another new project is Loper Link, a website that connects business owners with UNK students who can provide services such as photography, videography, website development and marketing. Preapproved students can upload their portfolios and service descriptions to the site, allowing Tschauner to search the database with clients looking to contract for certain work.
UNK’s Communication Department built the website and it’s hosted by Intellicom.
The Center for Entrepreneurship and Rural Development also offers focus groups, market research and studies for businesses, nonprofits and other entities.
“The research side is something we do that really supports our mission of rural development,” Tschauner said.
UNK led a study released last year that shows the economic impact tourism tied to the sandhill crane migration has on central Nebraska and the university has assisted several communities with assessments needed to secure state and federal grant funding for development projects.
Amanda Polacek, who started Ma’am Marketing last summer after moving back to her hometown of Kearney with her husband and young daughter, isn’t looking for that type of in-depth research on her business.
She uses Tschauner as a sounding board, someone to bounce ideas off and discuss her plans with.
“It’s really helpful because she’s been an entrepreneur, too,” Polacek said of Tschauner, who co-founded Open for Business magazine.
Polacek currently works with about a dozen clients, helping small business owners and entrepreneurs with digital marketing, but admits she’s “still kind of figuring it out” as she prepares a business plan that will bring a partner on board.
That’s where the Center for Entrepreneurship and Rural Development comes in handy.
The center, located inside West Center on the UNK campus, can be reached at 308-865-8199.
Aliese Hoffman, coordinator of experiential student entrepreneurship education and administrative assistant, and Shawn Kaskie, coordinator of external funding, are also part of the three-person team at the Center for Entrepreneurship and Rural Development.
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