Merlene Davis: Carnegie Center workshop offers help starting a business

Hardly a week goes by that I don't receive at least two phone calls from ex-offenders about how difficult it is for them to find employment.

Most talk about the skills they have acquired while incarcerated, or about the education they have that could more than qualify them for a job. Still, many employers simply do not welcome them, which is understandable if the pool of potential employees is filled with people without criminal convictions.

When I heard from Jessica Mohler about a new workshop being offered at the Carnegie Center for Literacy & Learning, I immediately thought of those ex-offenders.

The Micro Entrepreneur Workshop, scheduled for noon April 12, will be a 90-minute session that gives important information to anyone hoping to start his or her own business.

Instead of resorting to criminal activity because a legal livelihood can't be found, ex-offenders can use their skills and talent to start a business.

"This is the first time we ever held this workshop," said Mohler, Carnegie marketing and communications director. "I was thinking it would fit nicely with the current economic climate and Lexington's need for more small businesses and entrepreneurs."

In addition to ex-offenders, Mohler envisions the session to be ideal for women who choose not to continue hitting their heads on an impenetrable ceiling in the corporate world, and who instead choose to use their talents their own way.

Plus, a lot of my retired friends have skills or hobbies that with guidance could easily become money-making ventures.

Such mom-and-pop-type businesses have become known as micro-enterprises. They have fewer than five employees and most have only one, the owner. Technology has helped this group to mushroom.

Astarré Gudiño, who will lead the workshop, said participants will learn about business plans and how research is essential before getting started. Potential new business owners should read the end-of-year reports for companies they would be competing with to see how good they are really doing.

"You don't want to go in competition with a business that is failing," she said.

Gudiño is the state administrator for NxLevel, a nationwide training network for entrepreneurs, and owns SmartStart, which helps small businesses get started or grow. She has also taught a similar course at West Kentucky Community and Technical College in Paducah.

"Micro-entrepreneurship is taking your hobby or something you are good at and making it a business," Gudiño said. "The ex-felons would be great candidates. They have that drive, the determination and the will to work for themselves."

So do some retirees who, for example, are good at canning or knitting and want to make money from what they produce, she said. The workshop is for anyone who has a good skill or service that they can market or promote, but don't know how to.

Participants will learn the benefits of virtual businesses as well as vertical businesses and the cost differences and will receive a list of important definitions and an easy-to-read guide for writing a business plan.

"It is a great hour and half of their lives and useful information that they can take with them," Gudiño said.

Part of the Carnegie Center's Gourmet Learning Series, the workshop is a partnership with Whole Foods Market, which furnishes the lunches served during the sessions.

While the workshop is a bit of a departure from classes normally offered at the center, Laura Whitaker, program director, said résumé-writing and job-seeking classes have been held there before.

"We do feel there is an interest out there for professional development," she said. "The Carnegie Center is not only good for writers, but also for professions and for inspiring professions," Whitaker said.

"We don't want to be an intimidating environment. We are welcoming."

"It is a 'learn it today and use it tomorrow approach,'" Gudiño added.


What: Micro Entrepreneur Workshop to learn how to start a small business

When: Noon-1:30 p.m. April 12.

Where: The Carnegie Center for Literacy & Learning, 251 W. Second St.

Cost: $45, lunch included.

Information and registration: Call (859) 254-4175. Deadline is April 10.