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Sandra Louvier - Houston Community College

Sandra Louvier

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What is it about Houston?! We found another over-the-top college entrepreneurship program, this one catering to all ages and business levels, whether it’s writing a business plan or growing an existing company to the next level. Sandra Louvier, director of the Center for Entrepreneurship at HCC, explains how it all started with a competition, the curriculum was launched in 2009 and now HCC runs a mentor-based working competition and is in a partnership with Goldman Sachs and Babson College. It’s a wonderful story!

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Russ: Welcome back to The BusinessMakers Show, heard on the radio and seen online at TheBusinessMakers.com and brought to you now by Comcast Business, built for business. It's Featured Guest time and I'm on the Northwest campus of Houston Community College and my guest is the Director for the Center for Entrepreneurship here, Sandra Louvier; Sandra, welcome to The BusinessMakers Show.

Sandra: Thanks Russ, thanks for having me.

Russ: Well it's great to have you. I can sort of feel the energy level as I walked into this part of the campus, it is impressive.

Sandra: Thank you.

Russ: But you also happen to be the Outreach Ambassador for 10,000 Small Businesses and I want to cover that too as well, okay?

Sandra: Sure. We have a number of entrepreneurial initiatives now at HCC.

Russ: Okay, well tell us about the Center for Entrepreneurship.

Sandra: All right. Well, we started in 2009 as an outgrowth of a business plan competition that we'd been having for a couple of years. We have a strategic partner Newspring who are dedicated to empowering small business owners and they bring together 50 or 60 mentors every year to help mentor our teams moving through the competition. In fact, our competition is very different and unique from other competitions throughout the country in that the primary focus of it is a working competition. So teams moving through it get to work on their business plans from January through April with mentorship and training sessions to make a better plan.

Russ: Okay, cool. How many students are in the program right now?

Sandra: Well I just spoke at a class of 27 who started, although they may not all be in the competition because it's required that a class be taken prior to the competition so they come into it with a draft of a plan already written. But I would say right now we expect probably anywhere from 40 to 50 teams apply for the competition and we accept 25 teams into the competition.

Russ: Okay, so the Center for Entrepreneurship is really focused on this competition, do you have entrepreneurs that come in and to just take the curriculum and not necessarily compete?

Sandra: Yes. In fact, right now the Center for Entrepreneurship has varying certificate programs. So we found that at a community college it's not just a typical student that you might think of - someone coming from high school to take a couple of years here and then go onto a 4 year college - people of all ages come to HCC and we find in the Center for Entrepreneurship most definitely all ages and all education levels because they may be an empty-nester or a corporate fleer or a veteran and they're coming to find out what they need to know to do what they want to do with what they already know to turn it into a business. So we have a 3 course business plan certificate, an 8 course Certificate of Entrepreneurship, and then there's always that one course that's a prerequisite to entering the competition. Now most of our students are interested in the competition because it's free and it helps them take any plan that they've drafted to the next level; so it's a real prize and a gift to our students to get into the competition. But we also have workshops and seminars and multiple strategic partners around town who, our mission is to be a focal point for aspiring and existing entrepreneurs, so we have ties to the entrepreneurial ecosystem around Houston and we bring them to campus to help our entrepreneurs connect with the right resources to build the right relationships that they'll need to open and be solid in our community. One of the things that's different about, um, HCC is that most of the students that come here they're staying in Houston and they're opening their business in Houston, so we really feel we're making a dramatic impact now and even more so in the future on small business in Houston.

Russ: Okay. I love that term corporate fleer. I've been doing this for a long time Sandra and I've never heard it but that describes it, uh, succinctly. All right I'm going to put you on the spot - describe for me a success story; somebody that's come through here, improved their business or started their business and is now zooming.

Sandra: Okay, let's see, the first one that comes to mind is Desiree Worelle Mosley. She called me a couple of years ago from Denver, she was about to move to Houston, I described our programs to her; she came in, she enter, took the class, she entered the competition, she won, in 2011. In 2012 she opened a new daycare facility - a drop in daycare facility, in 2012 and on January 6th she opened her second location.

Russ: Okay, so much of what you talked about is focused on this business plan competition, which quite frankly is - to me it sort of epitomizes the real world, eventually you have to get out there and compete - but describe the parts of it; how serious is it just a written plan, is it a presentation, does it include an elevator pitch?

Sandra: It does all of that. Everyone coming into it should have a draft of a written plan because they've either taken the Small Business Management class or earned a certificate or they've graduated from our 10,000 Small Businesses program. And there are 5 training sessions that are free and required because if you win a prized seat in the competition, you bring your A game into it. So there's there's 5 training sessions and they're run by Jack Berry who is a renowned - I call him a serial CEO, he's taken 4 companies global and he is a master trainer and so he does the training session. They're very inspirational, motivational and very pointed. And then the mentors often attend with their teams and then they meet with their mentors as well before and after the training sessions.

Then written plans are due usually in early April and then within about 10 days they find who has won a finalist position. And then finalists present to judges at the end of April and then we award prize money a few days after that.

Russ: And who are the judges?

Sandra: Well, Jack Berry is a judge, Richard Tyler of Richard Tyler International we have a Vice President from Bank of America and we're bringing in come new judges this time.

Russ: Sounds real exciting. Okay, so you've also mentioned 10,000 Small Businesses a couple of times, tell us about that and how it fits in together with the entrepreneurship program here.

Sandra: Well we're very proud to be the 4th city in the nation to win 10,000 Small Businesses back in 2011. It was a huge win for our city and Mayor Parker announced it in February of 2011. It's a partnership with Goldman-Sachs and Babson College to deliver a training program that's to existing entrepreneurs - in other words, entrepreneurs that have already opened, they've been open 2 years, they have to have at least an annual revenue of over $150,000.00, but we've had people all the way up to 20 million in revenues in 10,000 Small Businesses, and they need to have at least 4 employees. And the program was designed to meet that type of entrepreneur because they tend to be at a level where they're moving from a phase where they can't wear all the hats anymore, they need to have a different skillset to power up to scale up to go to the next major level.

And so the 10,000 Small Businesses program delivers 11 days of training to these small business owners and they - it helps them create a growth plan to grow their business to the nest level. And our 9th class is about to start and we have 259 small business owners that have already graduated from it and we have success story after success story about how much they've grown since they've moved through the program. And then an alumni program because they keep coming back and they get close to each other and they are empowered. And they will be empowered to be connected with 10,000 Small Businesses through - 10,000 Small Business owners throughout the country when this whole program is done.

Russ: And the curriculum for that is designed by Babson and Goldman-Sachs or?

Sandra: Well Babson, Goldman-Sachs and the different community colleges that they've brought in. We were lucky to be the 4th in the nation; that was a great time to come in because they'd already developed the curriculum, but it was still evolving. And so now our lead faculty and our faculty that are specialists in certain subject matter, they've become renowned even nationally and they're participating in a national online program for 10,000 Small Businesses as well. The program delivers business advising and instruction, but it's an amazing interactive instruction that reflects the Babson College style.

You probably know this, that Babson College has been named number one in entrepreneurial education by U.S. News and World Report for like 20 years straight, so when Goldman-Sachs decides they're going to do something big they can go right to the best, and so we are over-the-moon proud to be affiliated with Babson College and be delivering a similarly styled curriculum; this interactive, immediately applicable type of classroom style such that, you know, if a small business owner goes back to college - or they may not have even ever been to college - they don't want to, you know, be in a classroom environment where somebody's lecturing to them and it's all theoretical. You know, they want it immediately applicable and how does this apply to my business?

And so our classroom style is such that when they're learning something it's not theoretical, it's immediately applied specifically to what they're doing in their business, and then they'll break out and they'll work in teams of two or in teams of six to revisit what they're doing in their business and make changes as they're moving through the day, as well as through the whole program.

Russ: It sounds so impressive.

Sandra: It is, it's exciting to be a part of.

Russ: Okay, but I've got to tell you Sandra, before we wrap it up, it is very impressive the quality and quantity of things that are happening out here, plus I feel like there's a little passion with you in this process; do I have that right?

Sandra: Yeah you do, you do. If you wanted to have a job that made an impact - in fact we have been making an impact and we've been recognized for it. Dr. Hodges, the President of HCC Northwest, was named by the National Association for Community College Entrepreneurship this year as the Entrepreneurial President of the Year for the U.S.

Russ: Impressive, my goodness.

Sandra: Yes. And I won a National Impact award too, and part of it's not because of just he and I, it's because of what everyone is doing; our 10,000 Small Businesses team is amazing. Our business plan competition partner Newspring, amazing. Maya Dernovo, who used to be Dean of Economic and Workforce Development, she helped me start the Center for Entrepreneurship, she brought in the Goldman-Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses grant, she's a grant rainmaker and now she's recently brought in the Minority Business Development Agency grant, and so we're starting a - the Minority Business Development Agency. And we have Roger Harris from the City of Houston to help us help entrepreneurs grow to the next major level through international expansion. And it's just phenomenal what's been happening here.

Russ: Well congratulations so much on your success.

Sandra: Well thank you so much.

Russ: Yeah, and thank you for sharing your story with us on the BusinessMakers Show.

Sandra: Thank you so much, we hope to be back.

Russ: You bet. All right, and that wraps up my discussion with Sandra Louvier, the Director of the Center for Entrepreneurship here at the Houston Community College. And this is The BusinessMakers Show, heard on the radio and seen online at TheBusinessMakers.com and brought to you by Comcast Business, built for business.

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