Training Women for Success: An Evaluation of Entrepreneurship Training Programs in Vermont, USA

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

This paper evaluates the outcomes of two entrepreneurs hip training programs operating in the state of Vermont, USA. As part of an Applied Research Methods course at the university students conducted interviews (n=43) with alumna of two programs: (1) the Women's Small Business Program (WSBP), which is run by Mercy Connections, a non-profit organization based in Burlington, and (2) the Micro Business Development Program (MBDP), of the Vermont Community Action Agencies. Interviews with these entrepreneurs focused on their motivations to start their own businesses, their definitions of success, the challenges and barriers they faced, and the effects that training had. The findings presented here provide empirical evidence and augment previous research on the factors that motivate women to become entrepreneurs and suggest concrete and actionable ways that public agencies and private organizations can better address the needs and motivations of aspiring entrepreneurs.

INTRODUCTION

Before delving into the case at hand - the effects that two training programs have had on women aspiring to be entrepreneurs in Vermont - it behooves us to recognize the greater significance of micro-businesses in the American economy. According to Census Department data, ninety percent of all U.S. businesses employ fewer than five workers, the basic definition of microbusinesses (SBA, 2005). The Association for Enterprise Opportunity (AEO) defines micro-business as a business with five or fewer employees, which requires $35,000 or less in startup capital, and does not have access to the traditional commercial banking sector. For the purpose of this study, micro-business is defined as a business with five or fewer employees, including the owner. The AEO estimates that there are over 20 million micro-businesses operating in the U.S. and that microbusiness jobs represent 16.6% of all private (non-farm) employment in the United States. This percentage is higher in rural communities, where micro-businesses are the primary creators of jobs (Birch, 1987). Recent economic trends heighten the need for micro-businesses in the American economy: in particular, lower paying jobs and less secure jobs are increasingly common in America, which pushes individuals to supplement their low-paying and often insecure jobs with selfemployment (Klein et al, 2003; Edgcomb & Klein, 2005; Servon, 2006).

Women are becoming important players in the micro-business sector of the US economy and women-owned firms now account for nearly 40 percent of U.S. businesses (Langowitz 2006). The number of women entrepreneurs is increasing at an extraordinary rate, growing at four to five times the national pace of business formation between 1997 and 2002 (Loscocco & Smith-Hunter, 2004); in Vermont, there has been a 94.3 percent increase in the number of women-owned businesses since 1987 (http://www.mercyconnections.org/). Given the increasing importance of micro-businesses to the American economy as well as women's manifest interest in entrepreneurship, there is a growing demand for training programs that can prepare individuals to succeed.

While self-employment does not require an advanced education (Dumas, 200 1 ), it does entail a set of technical and personal skills that lend themselves to practical training. Those who lack the resources or education to start their own business can look to micro business development programs for help. Micro-business development programs train aspiring entrepreneurs through classes, individual counseling, technical assistance, post-start-up support, loan packaging services, and referrals to outside resources (Schmidt et al., 2006). These programs assist an estimated 150,000 to 1 70,000 people each year (Plummer, 2006). At the national level, clients of micro enterprise training programs predominately comprise women (60 percent), low or moderate-income (60 percent), and ethnic or racial minorities (50 percent); a significant proportion of these clients come from very lowincome situations, with about 30 percent below the poverty line and 1 1 percent receiving welfare (Plummer, 2006). …