Startup Academy reaches out to Hispanic entrepreneurs

John Bailey                                                                October 5, 2016.

HICKORY – Opening doors and bridging gaps is what the Startup Academy at Lenoir-Rhyne University is all about this semester.

The Center for Commercial and Social Entrepreneurship (CCSE) program at LRU recently partnered with Hewlett Packard (HP) and Centro Latino with a focus on helping energize local Hispanic businesses.

The HP Life program offers free online micro-courses in seven languages to anyone with a computer and internet access, according to life-global.org. The 25 self-paced courses provide basic business, IT (information technology) and entrepreneurship skills training that’s especially effective in communities where economic development is needed most.

The core business areas of communications, operations, marketing and finance are covered, as well as special topics such as effective leadership, energy efficiency and social entrepreneurship.

“We’re putting these students in the same room together and building community around entrepreneurship and also mentoring them and building relationships,” CCSE Director and Assistant Professor of Entrepreneurship Dr. Ralph Griffith said. “So we’re taking what was just a basic online DIY (do it yourself) in your own home on your own time and creating a whole system around it.”

Centro Latino (Catawba County Hispanic Ministry) helped match local Hispanic entrepreneurs with the LRU program.

Centro Latino provides a Christian response to critical needs of Latinos looking to integrate themselves into Catawba Valley and seeks to bridge the cultural gap between Spanish and non-Spanish speaking members of the community through education, advocacy and outreach programs, according to centrolatinohickory.com.

It seemed like the perfect organization to help the university connect with the individuals who would be able to make the most of the program, Griffith said.

The Startup Academy is offered free at LRU but is limited to 10 students per session. They attend five two-hour classes for five months.

Griffith completed his pilot semester of the program last year with LRU students and staff.

“We were brainstorming how we could make the Start-up Academy not just better but also invite a group of people who may take the incites and run with it,” Griffith said. “There is a different kind of intensity this team has this year because they are not native English speakers so the resources weren’t always there for them.”

Stephanie Huitron is the LRU graduate assistant helping with the program this semester, leading the sessions in Spanish and working as a translator between the students and Griffith.

“Definitely this is stuff they could learn by themselves but being in that community setting is what’s going to excel what they already know,” Huitron said. “You get just one point of view from HP and whatever resources are on there and then you’re point of view, but in the last session all these different opinions were coming in and broadened people’s perspectives.”

The class looked at different ways of finding startup funds and one specific question that garnered plenty of discussion was whether an individual should cut his or her salary to help the business grow.

“It’s just different conversations like that, I think wouldn’t have happened had it not been for the group setting,” Huitron said. “The idea is to network with each other as well, so we definitely give time for that.”

Along with the four basic concepts covered by HP Life, the academy also tries to cater the sessions to meet the specific needs of the students.

Nicholas Albares is just at the beginning of starting his own business and is hoping the HP Life program through LRU will be the spark he’s looking to get him going. He is interested in creating an import business and was looking forward to the marketing module in the course.

Jonathan Agreda is also hoping the Startup Academy will give him the tools needed to create his own business.

“Hopefully after taking the course, I will see what it really takes to have a basic understanding of how to manage it, how to get ready for it,” Agreda said. “Many people start businesses and they don’t know how to handle it and they fail too soon.”

This use of HP Life in a structured setting is something Hewlett-Packard is watching with interest, to see if it can be recreated at other institutions, Griffith said. He plans on running the program in English next semester.

“This whole thing is just to create better companies in our community that last longer, that are recession proof and hopefully can hire new employees and grow our local (economy),” he said.

For more information about the program visit lr.edu or life-global.org.


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