The Forge Heats Up New Local Businesses
It started with a goal: how to spark more start-ups in Marion? A study, done by the Marion Area Chamber of Commerce, showed Marion was below average in small business start-ups compared to neighboring counties and the state. Local leaders taking part in the 2016-2017 Leadership Marion class at the Marion Area Chamber of Commerce decided to create a “Shark Tank”-style competition to change this trend.
The first year, seven entrepreneurs entered the competition, without training, and bravely presented their business plans. The winner won $2,500 seed money and business training. In 2018, 25 people entered The Forge and received free business classes from Marion Technical College prior the competition. This year, nearly 30 competitors are taking part in the classes at Marion Technical College. These start-ups are turning that trend around in Marion, impacting the jobs and wealth our community.
“It has exceeded my expectations! It’s just what Marion needs. It’s been so rewarding to see it grow,” said Julie Welch, one of the organizers. “People are ready to bring new small businesses to Marion. I’m stoked about that. It’s great!”
Lars Olson, another founder, stated that three competitors have opened their doors and more than 30 new jobs have been created in Marion by new or existing businesses that expanded. The Forge alumni include:
- The Art Center (opening in 2019)
- The Explore-It-Torium Children’s Museum
- The Heirloom Studio
- The Main Squeeze
- Social Sip
- Presidential Cleaning Service
“We are pleased to have played a small role in their success,” Olson shared.
Robert Turner, one of the founders of Attaboys, said The Forge made an impact on his business. “The teacher, Scott Hughes, was really helpful,” Turner said. “It’s always good to have other people’s insight on something you want to do. Attaboys is going really well.”
An attendee this year, Jill Chitwood with Sights Unseen Travel, has found it to be a benefit to her fledgling business. “They have lots of great info that you don’t typically think about as well as great resources to explore and help you do more research,” Chitwood said. “It has given me some new ideas and directions for marketing and promoting my business as well as how to improve our bookkeeping.”
Hughes is passionate about putting his real-world experience and MBA to work for these students. “It is wonderful to see the creativity and ingenuity of local entrepreneurs and to help them turn an idea into reality,” Hughes said. “Being an entrepreneur is tough. They have to master a diverse range of skills. We want to do everything we can to help them succeed.”
In addition to Hughes, other speakers are also bringing their experience to guest lecture this year. Jean Obenour of Custom Professional Accounting, and Robin Schelb of United Federal Credit Union, are two that are answering questions about everything from taxes to small business loans.
For the final competition contestants must complete all but one of the seven classes and present a business plan for prior review by a panel of judges. A select few will then be chosen to present their plans to the public.
The public competition is on Tuesday, Nov. 12 at 6:30 p.m. in the Health Technologies Center on the Marion Campus. This year, two prizes will be awarded: a $2,500 grand prize and a $1,000 prize for the best nonprofit. To attend please RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org or via The Forge Marion Facebook page. It is a great opportunity to see first-hand the entrepreneurial process happening in Marion.
The process doesn’t end with the initial Forge classes. An intermediate series of free business classes for new and growing businesses will be held in the spring for The Forge alumni.
“It’s thrilling to see it take a life of its own to take it from a neat idea to something that will exist perpetually with Marion Technical College,” Lars Olson said. “It will be good to see how it will grow, possibly into a small business incubator at MTC.”