by Heather B. Hayes
If small-business owners in a rural region had access to high-level business classes, what might be the impact? Some Southern Virginia entrepreneurs who participated in a pilot project will soon find out.
In mid-May, 18 students graduated from a 10-course Certificate in Entrepreneurship program held in Danville. Sponsored by the Danville Regional Foundation, the project was created by the University of Virginia School of Continuing Education and the Tayloe Murphy Center at the Darden School of Business.
Two Darden professors used its highly acclaimed case-study method to teach the fundamentals of starting and developing a business. The materials used in the courses focused specifically on challenges faced by Virginia businesses, says Marc Johnson, associate director of the Tayloe Murphy Center. Particularly popular was a section known as “business defense,” which asked students to use internal analysis to figure out how to increase the profitability of a busy Virginia restaurant. “We wanted to develop a body of cases that participants could identify with,” Johnson explains.
The program is intended to supplement existing educational resources, such as technical assistance from the Small Business Administration’s SCORE program or workshops available through local chambers of commerce. “Just like with a Darden education, though, the discussion really focuses on thinking through, debating and discussing different business decisions,” Johnson says. “It gives participants a way of thinking about different challenges and making decisions around them that they can then take back to their own business.”
The program will now be extended to other areas of the state, he says. Among the communities that have expressed interest in having Darden professors come to town are Roanoke, Wise and Martinsville.
The program is an example of recent outreach programs begun by the Tayloe Murphy Center. Last year it presented the first annual Resilience Awards, which recognize businesses that have thrived in communities with economic challenges, such as high unemployment, poverty and sluggish economic growth.
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