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Tuesday, July 17th, 2012
A guest entry by Gregory Milo, educator at Archbishop Hoban High School
Colleagues tell Cheryl Smith that she has a unique talent, an ability to spend time helping struggling entrepreneurs extract in an articulate way the ideas in their heads. She sees it as simply patience.
Cheryl’s Collaboration Station focuses on coaching people who come to her with an entrepreneurial idea. Their vision is fantastic, and their will is strong, but they might have difficulty articulating their business plan. Collaboration Station provides the clients with necessary business skills.
Cheryl sits down with each client and helps them transfer their brilliant idea onto paper in a way suitable for the professional world. It is a disciplined and persistent process. As a high school teacher, I recognize the sometimes exhausting practice breaking down students’ ideas in order to reestablish them into something with structure.
“You can’t just talk a good game,” Cheryl declares, “You have to take that talk and put it on paper.” Through her business writing lab, Cheryl can help her clients build justification for their dreams. She admits that there is a of of hand-holding. Her clients’ learning curve is a lot bigger when it comes to making their business dream a reality. Her clients come from low to moderate income backgrounds. They might lack education. They might be trying to escape from a history of addiction or incarceration, but they all have great ideas and a will.
The process at Collaboration Station is a tedious, yet advantageous, one. Cheryl starts with one-on-one technical assistance, starting with assessing where a client is and then creating an individual development plan that addresses the action steps to take the client from the business plan to reality. It is a self-paced program that places the responsibility on the client. Whatever the background, Cheryl’s clients usually lack necessary tools, such as writing or business knowhow, but Cheryl can provide the tools.
Of course there is the altruistic want to help the “underdog,” as Cheryl admits, but she also understands the rational reason for her work, explaining at length the need for a place like Collaboration Station.
Cheryl energetically and with purpose reels off numerous facts and figures describing the overall economic benefit of providing people of low income backgrounds or ex-offenders with tools, such as education, that can allow them to compete as entrepreneurs.
As Cheryl writes grants and business plans she has to provide evidence of support, which leads to a lot of research, and it shows. She tells me how nearly 45% of small businesses are started nationally by people of low to modest income levels, and 8% of them are below poverty. She continues, “Small businesses create 53.1% of all jobs.”
“Can we address this?” she says with a laugh. “Why not give low income populations an opportunity to be a success? It would decrease the drain on the local economy and resources and increase the tax dollars.”
Cheryl has addressed the facts. She tells me of the man who wanted to take advantage of the foreclosure trend, and so he began taking pictures of properties for the banks to identify work that needed to be done. She tells me of the single mother who wanted to help other single mothers, and so she started her own nonprofit organization. There’s the woman with her own catering business. There’s the ex-offender who has started his own organization to help other ex-offenders. It’s a diverse list of success stories, but they all needed Collaboration Station to get their jump start. To accomplish her feat, Cheryl needs help. She needs business volunteers to help with seminars that teach her clients about how to do their taxes. She needs funds to help her clients with start-up ideas or with office supplies. She would like interns from The University of Akron who could work with her clients in the writing lab.
She’s a small operation with a big heart and a strong drive, and her success means a less needy society that works for itself to build a stronger economy for Akron. Cheryl can’t do it alone, however.
People have told Cheryl that low income level people don’t have what it takes. But she knows there is a work ethic waiting to be tapped and assisted.