In ‘ecosystem of entrepreneurship,’ knowledge is key
Entrepreneurs aren’t born with “business smarts,” they learn them.
That’s the focus of the Langlade County Economic Development Corporation’s entrepreneurship training program, a nine-week series of classes designed to nurture future business leaders in a diverse and ever-changing environment.
According to Angie Close, EDC executive director, the training program–offered through the Wisconsin Small Business Development Center–helps potential business owners determine if there is a market for their product or service, define their customer base, and develop a business plan that will appeal to lenders. Most importantly, it teaches participants how to use their time, money, and resources wisely.
“Our goal is to be an efficient support system with resources to build business and enterprise,” Close said. “That in turn contributes to a vibrant economic community.”
The program dates to 2015 and was made possible in large part through continuing support from The Suick Family Foundation. The foundation was created by Phyllis Suick and honors her late husband, Jim, who died at age 89 in 2014. He is remembered as a passionate entrepreneur and community leader who brought industry and jobs to Antigo through his various business endeavors, including Suick Real Estate and the Palace Theater and residential developments such as Suburban Acres.
“Phyllis, and her daughter, Jean, are passionate about continuing Jim’s legacy to grow their hometown. They really wanted to bring that legacy back” Close said. “Without their help, we wouldn’t have been able to bring this program to the community. They were totally on board with the idea.”
The nine-week program carries an initial tuition of $1,000. The EDC’s partnership with the Small Business Development Center trims that total to $250 and then the foundation kicks in $150 per participant, leaving a net cost to students of just $100 if all the criteria are met.
“The value they receive is far more than the cost of the program,” Close said.
The program offers a mix of exercises, workshops, and speakers designed to prepare potential entrepreneurs for the rewards—and pitfalls—of business ownership.
“The hardest part for many of the participants is the financial section of doing a business plan.” Close said. “But determining those financial details can be the key to success.”
The class also requires attendees to complete a market analysis and determine their target demographic.
“They need to determine what is going to be their niche and how will they stand out from others,” Close said. “That’s something we really talk about.”
One of the program’s successes came early. Jenny Easker completed the first class in 2015 and has expanded the family restaurant business, bbJack’s at 523 Superior St., into the frozen pizza market. The popular Antigo pie is now available in frozen food aisles across northern Wisconsin.
“I’ve wanted to do a wholesale pizza for 10 years,” Easker said shortly after the launch of the frozen pizza in 2019 said. “You could always buy take-and-bake pizzas here at the restaurant, but we never put it out there as a specialty. I wanted to take it in a new direction.”
That expansion is continuing. Within weeks, bbJack’s will begin offering pizza fries in frozen food cases across the region, something Easker called an exciting development.
Among downtown retailers, other program graduates include Laura Suhr, who opened Urban Pearl boutique in the 900 block of Fifth Avenue, the former Benishek’s barber shop.
“The program helped me to sit down and really think about what I wanted in the business and the vision I wanted to create,” Suhr said. “I’ve always wanted to create something, and the class introduced questions I hadn’t thought of, like marketing and the financial plan. It teaches you the things you should be thinking about.”
Also downtown, Angela Zupon put the knowledge she gained through the training to good use at Antigo Floral located in the Country Store plaza in the 700 block of Superior Street.
Zupon came from a business background, having managed a nearby retailer, but said there were a myriad of details to opening her own shop that she had to consider.
“I definitely couldn’t have done it without Angie Close,” she said. “It was so nice to have a person like here in my corner. That was huge for me.”
Key for her business was connecting with the resources and learning about the various business pitfalls that come with being an owner instead of an employee.
“I almost feel like I should take the class again just to relearn some of the things they focused on,” she said.
Not all the success stories are new retail businesses. Lisa Rettinger had already purchased Grandview Orchard, located on Highway F east of Antigo, when she signed up for the training.
“It is still worthwhile for someone who already owns a business,” Rettinger said. “The topics the speakers covered were very diverse, everything from insurance and accounting to social media and advertising. It showed me I am on the right track. I am making some good decisions.”
The class also taught her the need to write down a business plan.
“That is really important,” Rettinger stressed. “It makes you think about all those details and write them down.”
Other success stories include Great Northern Campground, Northwood Blooms, Memories Repurposed, April’s Pooch Parlor, Mindful Journey Cycling Adventure, One 10 Graphics, AJ Lawn Care, Fun Time Antigo, Escape and Smash It, Sunset Storage LLC, and Best Plumbing.
Not every business idea comes to fruition, and some open and close within months. That also provides a valuable learning experience.
“Sometimes, after taking the class, the person knows the idea isn’t sustainable or needs some more work,” Close said. “They learn that they need to do more work, maybe let it simmer a while, before proceeding.”
The current class has 14 students, Close said, all with “strategic, interesting ideas.” The next class will be announced early in 2023.
Owning a business is hard—personally and financially—but the Langlade County Economic Development Corporation remains committed to partnering with those with ideas and drive to be successful.
“It’s all about supporting that ecosystem of entrepreneurship,” Close said. “We are here to help.”
For more information on the Langlade County Economic Development Corporations Entrepreneurial Program, go to our Entrepreneurship Program page by clicking here.