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A Chat with Laura Gumpert of The Empowerment Group
By Clayton Ruley

Editors Note: We are about groups that give opportunities to those with dreams so with that we met with Laura Gumpert and she talked to us about her organization, The Empowerment

Group. Learn and enjoy!

 

GeoClan.com (GC) : What exactly is The Empowerment Group and is Philadelphia your main base of operations?

 

The Empowerment Group(EG) : The Empowerment Group is a nonprofit organization located in the Kensington section of North Philadelphia.   Our mission is to accelerate economic development in distressed urban communities by cultivating local entrepreneurship.   We offer entrepreneurship training programs for adults and youth, and we are the only provider of business classes in Spanish.  

 

GC : What type of services do you have and how do you feel they help the client?

 

EG : We run two main programs – the Philadelphia Entrepreneurship Program in which we work with adults who want to start their own businesses and the Youth Entrepreneurship Program where we run hands-on classes in entrepreneurship at after-school and summer programs throughout Philadelphia.  

 

In the Philadelphia Entrepreneurship Program, clients take classes in business basics such as finance, marketing and operations.   They also work one-on-one with business consultants and have access to computers, Internet, faxes and phones in our business resource center.   In the Youth Entrepreneurship Program, we introduce entrepreneurship to middle school and high school students by having them plan and run their own businesses. We also run the ELITE Group, a program at high schools throughout the city that matches volunteer mentors with small groups of students to put together socially conscious business plans.   Lastly, the Youth Entrepreneurship Program works in partnership with other organizations such as the Enterprise Center in West Philadelphia and Youth Venture, a national organization aimed at helping students start socially conscious businesses, to run youth social entrepreneurship conferences.  

             

GC : What is your involvement in the organization and how long have you been there?

 

EG : I am the Director of the Youth Entrepreneurship Program.   I started at EG in August 2002 as an Americorps*VISTA Member writing grant proposals and planning fundraising events.   After my VISTA year, I joined the staff and began running the Youth Entrepreneurship Program.

 

GC : What's the biggest misconception you see for people trying to work with you?

 

EG : Our clients often have grand dreams of quitting their day jobs and making it on their own right away.   It is often only through classes and training that they understand the many challenges they will face and begin to make realistic plans for their businesses.  

 

GC : What would you say is the most frequent business started since you've been there?

 

EG : We've seen all sorts of businesses, but businesses in the food industry are very popular.  

 

 

 

GC : What's the reaction you usually get from your clients, the local businesses, etc?

 

EG : When people hear about our organization in their local papers, and by word-of-mouth, they always call in very excited to hear about our programming and what we have to offer them.   I think people feel better knowing that there are organizations, like the Empowerment Group, out there, willing to help them begin their business ventures- which can be a very long, personal, emotional process for many.   Knowing that someone will be behind them through it all is a good comfort.   We try and cater to all of our clients needs so that they really do feel supported.

 

GC : How can people get involved? What is the process for starting a business with the organization? What do people need to deal with you and the system?

 

EG : It's easy for people to become involved at EG.   To enter the Philadelphia Entrepreneurship Program, adults simply complete an application form, and attend an interview with one of our staff members.   After this process, they will be accepted into our "Mastering the Basics" course and benefit from our classroom education, workshops, one-on-one consulting and business support groups.   Once clients complete the "Basics" course, they can chose to move onto the "Mastering the Plan" course and develop their business plan.   During this time, clients work one-on-one with staff members to really start outing everything in place; from applying for a business privilege license, to securing a location, and creating marketing collateral.    

 

GC : Is there any place people can go for information about The Empowerment Group?

 

EG : www.empowerment-group.org .   For information about our upcoming Philadelphia Entrepreneurship Week, check out www.entrepreneurshipweek.com .  

 

GC : What do you personally get from this working experience?

 

EG : I find it incredibly rewarding to see clients begin to see success with their businesses.   Additionally, it is so heartwarming to see youth put what they learn in our classes to work and present impressive business plan presentations and have actual success with businesses they start.

 

GC : Can you give me a good experience that you had and a bad one if there was one?

 

EG : One good experience that comes to mind is watching the programs grow so much in such a short time.   We raised the number of clients enrolled in our adult program from about 12 to over 50 in less than 3 months!   Then, we were able to see all 50 students complete their coursework, and 35 of them graduated successfully!  

And keeping in touch with former clients is always great, seeing how they progress in their businesses and in their lives is really inspiring, and it's that motivation that really keeps our programs alive.

 

GC : Any tips you can give to the perspective client and business owner?

 

EG : Some of the most important things that a new business owner or aspiring entrepreneur need to remember is to be patient, to set measurable and attainable goals , and to PLAN !   Most business ventures fail for no other reason than that the entrepreneur did not plan ahead and attempt to move forward and a slow and steady pace.   Planning and goal-setting go for all aspects of entrepreneurship, from marketing and operations and ESPECIALLY with financials .  

Aside from general entrepreneurship education, then, an aspiring business owner should also look into a strongly structured financial management training that can be found at many not-for-profit credit counseling and financial consulting organizations.   Many banks are also now offering these programs.

 

GC : Where can people get more info on business and creating one in general, locally? Nationally?

 

EG : For more general information, entrepreneurs can visit their state and local government offices and request more information on starting a business in that area.   These locations will also have more detailed information depending on the type of business one wants to open.   For education and training purposes, entrepreneurs should attempt to find organizations like the Empowerment Group so that they can be assured that they are ready to embark on their venture.

 

 

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