February 23, 2006
posted online February 26, 2006
Small businesses making big impact in
Southeast Missouri State University
CAPE GIRARDEAU, M0 – From daycares to heating and
cooling businesses, and from beauty salons to photography
studios, entrepreneurs have surged to the head of their class in
In fact, entrepreneurs participating in the Operation
Bootstrap Project over the last three years defied all odds, with
80 new businesses being successfully launched from 204 people who
participated in the program.
"That's 39 percent, or greater than one in three
participants" who are now operating their own businesses
here in Southeast Missouri as a result of this program, said Bill
Vickery, director of entrepreneurship and training in Southeast
Missouri State University's Innovation Center.
In 2002, the Small Business Development Center at Southeast
Missouri State University entered into a three-year collaborative
agreement with East Missouri Action Agency of Park Hills, Mo., to
develop and deliver entrepreneurial training for their Operation
Bootstrap Project in Bollinger, Cape Girardeau, Iron, Madison,
Perry, St. Francois, Ste. Genevieve and Washington counties. The
goal of the program was to create at least 70 full-time jobs
among low-income individuals, recipients of Temporary Assistance
for Needy Families (TANF) and single parents.
Because entrepreneurs from low-income groups generally have
difficulty infusing capital to start a new small business, the
program offered a grant opportunity of up to $5,500 for start-up
costs. The grants were awarded to participants who successfully
completed the designated entrepreneurial course, submitted a
business plan created during the course and received approval of
their business plan from an independent committee including
bankers and local business people.
Of the 204 who participated in the coursework under the
Operation Bootstrap Project, 175 completed the training, Vickery
"That is 86 percent compared to an average completion
rate of 48 percent when programs offer no incentive," he
State Sen. Kevin Engler, whose 3rd Senatorial District
encompasses much of the area served by the Operation Bootstrap
Project, said, the program has "given opportunity to people
with an entrepreneurial spirit and has created jobs for our whole
Sixty-one percent of those completing the entrepreneurial
training submitted business plans, and 77 percent of those earned
grants. A staggering 95 percent of the new businesses started
were still in operation after two years, Vickery said, versus the
national average of an approximate 55 percent survival rate after
the same time period.
"This destroys the economic models around the
country," said Dennis Roedemeier, director of the Southeast
Missouri State University Innovation Center.
"The fact that this program has helped lower that failure
rate is astounding," Engler added.
Richard Lyons of Cadet, Mo., was an Operation Bootstrap
participant who launched Cub Heating & Cooling.
"It's easy to have an idea, but it's hard to turn
it into an actual business," he said.
Lyons had extensive training in the heating and cooling field
and has his EPA certification. However, as with many
entrepreneurs, he possessed the technical skills but lacked the
operational, management and planning skills of business
ownership. He and his wife enrolled in the First Step FastTrac
Entrepreneurial Training with hopes of making their dreams come
"This class provided us with information and the
'tools' necessary to determine the feasibility of our
idea," Lyons said. "We still use some of the templates
provided in the training. We are truly blessed to have had the
opportunity to participate in such a fine program and would
recommend it to anyone who is considering starting a
Cindy Merx of Potosi, Mo., participated in Operation Bootstrap
and opened Sweet Memories Sandwich Shop in Potosi. She has been
in business for more than three years with her sandwich and
dessert shop. She also does catering.
"This class is a wake-up call for those thinking about
starting a business," Merx said. "Planning is vital if
you want to succeed in the business world, and this class
prepares you to take that next step."
Trina McGill, of Farmington, Mo., opened Trendy Traditions
Jewelry more than two years ago.
"Starting your own business can be scary, but going into
it with the knowledge I obtained from this class, gave me the
confidence to go forward with my dream," she said.
Vickery said most the business launched as a result of this
program "are not flashy companies. But they hire people and
have people working for them. It's progress. These are some
folks who have taken some control over their destiny. They are
building something they might be able to pass on to their
Vickery says the First Step FastTrac Entrepreneurial Training
is not an intimidating course.
"It's a course they can understand, but it still
takes a real commitment from these people," he said.
"The thing that doesn't show up in the statistics,"
Vickery said, "is the self-confidence and self esteem"
the participants gain through the course. "They learn to
network with people out in the community." Roedemeier said,
"Nothing will burst your bubble faster than trying to go
into business. This program provides people with a little bit of
financial support and a lot of technical know-how."
After all, Roedemeier said, "Great ideas happen one at a
The Entrepreneurial Resource Center at Southeast spearheaded
the entrepreneurial training, delivering nine courses over three
years, along with business plan coaching and partial program
funding. Vickery led the training using the First Step FastTrac
Program curriculum developed by the Kauffman Foundation. The
course included material on development of a business concept,
market analysis, pricing, cash flow and other areas critical to
The volume of training provided by the Entrepreneurial
Resource Center coupled with additional entrepreneurial trainings
by the Center has elevated it to be the leading First Step
FastTrac Kauffman trainer in rural America, Vickery said.
The goal of Operation Bootstrap was to create 70 jobs based on
a $700,000 budget or $10,000 invested per job created. But, in
actuality, the project created 138 jobs at a cost of just $5,073
Officials with Southeast' Entrepreneurial Resource Center
say the economic impact of the 138 jobs created by the project is
significant and ongoing in the target area. Six new businesses
were launched in Cape Girardeau County, four in Iron County, five
in Madison County, four in Perry County, 35 in St. Francois
County, five in Ste. Genevieve County and 21 in Washington
Officials say the small grant offered to participants for
start-up expenses appears to be the key factor leading to the
success of these businesses. The possibility of some assistance
with capital kept participants coming to classes and motivated to
complete viable business plans in competition with their
"The confidence that resulted from getting a small grant
along with the knowledge and tools gained from classes encouraged
and motivated entrepreneurs to start up and grow their new
businesses," Vickery said.
Piggybacking on the success of Operation Bootstrap, which
ended in 2005, the Entrepreneurial Resource Center is launching
the new Operation Jump-Start this month and next in Cape
Girardeau, Park Hills, Sikeston and Dexter, Mo. Participants who
successfully complete this free program and develop a business
plan will be eligible to apply for a grant up to $5,000 to assist
with business start-up expenses. Officials say the goal of this
program is to engage 80 participants, start 25 businesses and
create 40 jobs within 12 months of them completing their
Operation Jump-Start is a training program offering a
12-session, 36-hour, comprehensive course using the same First
Step Fast Trac curriculum used in the Operation Bootstrap course.
The program is designed for people in the low to middle income
range who are starting or expanding a small business. The course
will give participants the opportunity to evaluate and test ideas
in a safe and supportive environment.
Grants received by Southeast Missouri State University from
the Delta Regional Authority, U.S. Department of Labor and the
Missouri Division of Workforce Development in conjunction with
Southeast's Innovation Center are allowing participants to
attend the sessions at no cost. For more information on the
training call (573) 651-2929.