Entrepreneur Loree Everette got most of her business education from the school of hard knocks—running a small architectural design firm since 2002.
The 40-year-old attended some one-off business classes over the years, she said, but they lacked substance, and she couldn't afford to pursue an MBA while running a business. Earlier this year she encountered a "mini-MBA" program offered by the U.S. Small Business Administration, and it turned out to be a perfect fit.
"We had guest experts analyze our financials and point out areas of improvement or things we should be concerned about," said Everette, who's founder and president of Phanomen/design in downtown Indianapolis.
"For me it was access to insights that I don't even know where else you would get."
Everette was one of a dozen business owners who graduated this week from the SBA's inaugural Emerging Leaders program, a seven-month program that targets entrepreneurs who are women, minorities, veterans and members of other "historically challenged communities."
The SBA has been offering the free course around the country for a few years but debuted it in Indiana this spring. The training, which is facilitated by a third-party organization, covers finance, marketing and human resources, among other subjects.
"It's a matter of access to resources," said Eric Armacost, lender relations specialist for the SBA's Indiana district office, who managed the Emerging Leaders program this year. "It's been widely acknowledged that one of the big issues with non-traditional entrepreneurs is that they may not have the ability, time or money to access a traditional MBA program."
The program has three main components: curriculum, subject-matter experts, and networking.
Participants, who represented trucking, marketing and other industries, met every other Wednesday from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. for classes. On occasion, experts such as certified public accountants would lead discussions.
On weeks with no class, the entrepreneurs were encouraged to meet with their peers to discuss three-year plans and the like.
"That was hugely beneficial, because I've made some connections that are lifetime connections," Everette said. "It was an opportunity to, in a small group setting, get very familiar and intimate with each other's businesses and help each other out."
Jose Leon, 52, is another Emerging Leaders graduate. The Cuban-born American founded his first business in 2009—a full-service marketing agency called LK Marketing Services—and employs about 10 people in the Mass Ave neighborhood.
He said one of the most beneficial aspects of the program dealt with accounting. The guest experts shared some best practices for refining financial reporting methods, which gave him a better sense of what he needed to do—and what he needed to delegate.
"If I don't know what it is that I need, it's very difficult for me to direct someone to do it," Leon said. "So this provided the fundamental best practices … and allows you to understand what that picture looks like."
The local SBA office will begin recruiting at the end of January for the next classes that start in April, Armacost said.