PSU program helps minority and women entrepreneurs
By Mindy Cooper/The Portland Observer
As entrepreneurs face challenges from the current state of the economy, one local university program is determined to help small businesses succeed.
The Business Outreach Program at Portland State University is dedicated to assist small and local businesses, including emerging minority and women-owned entrepreneurs, achieve their potential.
“The Business Outreach Program was originally created with the intent to provide students with the opportunity of community-based learning in order to give back to their community, aligning with PSUs motto of letting knowledge serve the city,” said Lara Damon, director of the program.
Founded in 1994, the business outreach program has supported over 650 companies, placed over 1,650 students as consultants and provided $1 million worth of consulting services to undeserved small businesses and residents.
“Our mission has always been to help underserved markets, whether that is low income, minority and immigrants or women owned entrepreneurs. So the clientele that we see is in the greatest need for our services,” said Damon.
Through one on one consulting and technical assistance support, the program has served more than 180 businesses in the last three years.
According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, the so-called “micro-enterprises” which comprise fewer than five employees, make up 86 percent of all registered businesses in Oregon, employing 16 percent of the entire workforce.
About 30 percent of the PSU program’s clients are minority individuals, and 70 percent are owned by women, said Damon.
She added, however, this is not to say the program doesn’t help men.
“We primarily base our enrollment on folks that are low income with the intent to help them increase personal wealth and sustain for their families, and become a positive contributor to the community and overall economy,” she said.
As part of a long-term commitment, the program provides services for up to three years.
Enrollment is extremely competitive because there can be only 15 new clients a year in order to provide free services, which are made possible from a number of community partners and PSU.
The program also provides additional support through a shot term, five-week business development workshop series, which is open to any entrepreneur within the city, regardless of state, or size.
“The training is based on a sliding scale and based on household income. It is a nominal fee,” Damon said.
Some recent successes include Ruby Jewel Treats, which has grown from an ice cream stand at the Portland Farmer’s Market to a storefront with product distribution in 11 states.
People’s Yoga, which has a location on Northeast Killingsworth Street, recently opened a new location in southeast Portland, and Dig A Pony, known as a ‘popular watering hole’, has directly created 26 jobs since opening in 2011.
“[The] BOP helped to expedite the learning process in being a small business owner, gave me great tools and resources, and saved me a ton of money and time,” said Lindsey Newkirk of Elysium Events and Junk to Funk, another small business supported by the program.
Although there are a number of barriers to successful small business success, Damon said everyone is different, and thus the services provided are unique to each individual entrepreneur.
“We customize our services to each individual we work with,” she said.
Sometimes there is a centric focus on financial understanding of their books, which is a common difficulty for small business owners, she said. “Often individuals want to gain an understanding of what their margins are in their goods and services or how much money they need to break even,” she said. “We help them realize their personal financial goals, as well as their business goals.”
Nationally, Damon said 80 percent of businesses have fewer than five employees.
Within Portland, over 60 percent of businesses are micro businesses, and nearly 80 percent have fewer than 10 employees. “So when you look at those statistics, it really demonstrates how small businesses are such a strong contributor to our overall community and serve as an imperative economic driver in job creation, increasing personal wealth and business taxes,” she said. “And the list goes on.”
“It’s about getting individuals to a place where they can self sustain on their own income and off government subsidies,” she said. “We do have an emphasis on minority and women owned, but it is not a requirement. We help all entrepreneurs in need.”
For more information about the Business Outreach Program at Portland State University, visit pdx.edu/business-outreach.