11 business owners celebrate completing SBA Emerging Leaders Program

FAIRMONT — 11Eleven local small business owners celebrated the completion of West Virginia’s first-ever Small Business Administration Emerging Leaders Program Thursday night at Muriale’s in Fairmont.

The evening opened with a graduation ceremony and ended with pasta, meatballs and fellowship.

Jeremy Harris and Michelle Christian

The 10-year-old program has been operating nationwide, but this is the first time it’s been brought tot West Virginia, said Michelle Christian, SBA Mid-Atlantic regional administrator.

It’s a rigorous six-month program “which essentially gives them the course of a mini-MBA,” she said. The owners – five from Morgantown, one from Fairmont, one from Bridgeport and the rest from other cities around the state – learn how to organize, manage, expand and grow their business, hire and give back to their communities, Christian said.

The even learn how to develop exit plans to close down when the time comes, she said. “It’s something business owners are not always thinking about.”

Chanda Dickson and Michelle Christian

Just as important, Christian said, “They really take, not only the content that they learn, but the relationships that they make with the other individuals. It is a network and a resource that they otherwise would not have.”

Jeremy Harris owns Morgantown IT company IT Mindshare, which has 11 employees. He’s used SBA lending in the past and learned about program from his banker.

He was drawn to sing up as he saw the tough criteria just to qualify and by the opportunity to learn about learn about the SBA, marketing, sales and finance.

“What we take back to the office is what I consider some validation of the business practices we already have.” That, plus new business relationships and how to explore government contracting – something he wants to pursue.

Chanda Dickson owns commercial cleaning company Shine Cleaning Solutions, based in Suncrest. SBA contacted her about the program, she said.

“I’ve learned that I have a lot to learn.” Like Harris, she’s taken home lessons about marketing and finance. “Things to just get my house in order. … It was a blast. You think you’ve got it all together, then you realize you don’t. And then you start to bring it all back together again.”

Tweet David Beard @dbeardtdp

Email dbeard@dominionpost.com

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