Modernizing Main Street: Rutgers University's Entrepreneurship Pioneers Initiative Hopes to Revitalize New Jersey's Urban Centers by Putting the School's Resources at the Disposal of Small Businesses in the Inner City

By Oguntoyinbo, Lekan | Diverse Issues in Higher Education, September 2, 2010 | Go to article overview

Modernizing Main Street: Rutgers University's Entrepreneurship Pioneers Initiative Hopes to Revitalize New Jersey's Urban Centers by Putting the School's Resources at the Disposal of Small Businesses in the Inner City


Oguntoyinbo, Lekan, Diverse Issues in Higher Education


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In the past year, Carol Blank and business partner Lorrie Sanchez have seen revenues of their Newark, N.J.-based business jump by more than 150 percent. Their website now attracts more traffic. They've reformulated their mission statement, thus clarifying their thinking about what they "do and don't do." They've schooled themselves in the concept of branding, and, as a result, their materials now look crisper, more focused and more attractive. They also have a much wider network of contacts and a larger pool of potential clients.

They credit the dramatic transformation of their fortunes to the Entrepreneurship Pioneers Initiative (EPI), a nine-month-long educational program targeted to first-generation, small business owners offered through the Rutgers University Center for Urban Entrepreneurship and Economic Development. In its second year, EPI has worked with more than 40 businesses out of an applicant pool of 200.

"Their program dealt with specific areas every month that one would need in starting a business, promoting business, everything that you would need to know," says Blank, co-owner of Utterly Global, a company that provides anti-bullying programs and services to schools, parents and civic groups.

"There were speakers that dealt with financial things and business plans. We got individual counseling. Also invaluable, we made numerous contacts. The people in the class became like a family. We are still in touch with each other. We also employ each other. I have used the services of other people in the class. The different professors have been very helpful. We've been able to reach out to them outside of class time," Blank says, lauding the center as a great resource for small businesses independent of the classes.

The initiative is one of many programs offered by the center, an arm of the university's business college that bills itself as the first program of its kind in the country. The center aims to revitalize Newark and other urban centers in New Jersey by building strong corporate and community partnerships and putting the resources of the university at the disposal of businesses in those urban areas, particularly small businesses. These are tough times for small businesses. From 2005 to 2009, the number of small business bankruptcies rose from 39,200 to 60,800, according to the Office of Advocacy for the Small Business Administration.

The center takes a broad approach to its work. It partners with nonprofits to help them develop ideas to generate more revenue. It works with homeless shelters to help better meet the needs of the destitute, partly because business owners may be reticent about relocating to a city teeming with hundreds of homeless people loitering nearby. It also explores innovations, such as melding art with business to beautify the community.

At the core of these strategies are Rutgers professors, graduate and undergraduate students, who collaborate with various foundations, corporations and governmental entities, including the city of Newark, which has a poverty rate of about 25 percent and a median household income of $35,000, and other urban centers in New Jersey to improve the fortunes of small businesses and nonprofits.

"We would like to see Newark turned around, with very low unemployment and have people come to Newark and have people who live in Newark gainfully employed and doing well," says Dr. dt Ogilvie, an associate professor of business strategy at Rutgers and founding director of the center, of the center's vision. "We would like to see that replicated throughout the country. If our cities don't work, our country's not going to work. We need to have an educated populace in our cities and vibrant businesses in our cities."

A Rewarding Risk

The center's flagship laboratory for this urban transformation may well be Halsey Street, a small collection of city blocks within walking distance of downtown Newark. …

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