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Entrepreneur program gets state grant 

A pilot program at Cuesta College to aid new ventures will expand services to other campuses

click to enlarge TAKING CARE OF BUSINESS :  Israel Dominguez of the Business and Entrepreneurship Center at Cuesta College offers free guidance for new ventures. - PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
  • PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
  • TAKING CARE OF BUSINESS : Israel Dominguez of the Business and Entrepreneurship Center at Cuesta College offers free guidance for new ventures.
Tucked into a small office near the bookstore at Cuesta College, the Business Assistance Center began in January of 2009 as a pilot program aimed at stimulating students to start businesses. It’s provided information on acquiring loans, drafting business models, and managing money and has been so successful, Gov. Schwarzenegger and the chancellor of community colleges recently agreed to give the program a $205,000 grant to expand its services.

 “The grant will go into effect July 1,” said Israel Dominguez, who directs the program. “We’ll become the Business and Entrepreneurship Centers, and our network will reach from San Luis Obispo County, to Santa Barbara, Ventura, and northern Los Angeles.  It’s really exciting.”

 The program’s primary goals are to expand industry sectors and create jobs, said Dominguez. He meets personally with entrepreneurs, and if an idea seems viable, provides advanced technical assistance and consulting for free.

 “I was impressed that it was free for how talented he was,” Wendy Rackov marveled. With Dominguez’s help, she and her husband just opened Lost Isle Adventures, a tour-boat business in Morro Bay. “We sat with him for two hours at the first meeting, and he gave us a ton of information.” Dominguez helped the Rackovs design a detailed spreadsheet that covered every expense and projected a minimum income they’d need to be profitable. He also gave them statistical questionnaires, which they used to test the market and gauge community interest. The results prompted them to hone their brand as an educational adventure boat tour. Instead of their original idea to ferry people across the bay for secluded picnics, they now explore oyster farms and set up informative scavenger hunts on the sand spit.

 “With his tips, going forward was a smarter, more strategic movement, as opposed to just throwing things out there and seeing what worked,” said Rackov. “It would’ve been a rockier start without his help.”

 Though they will operate through community colleges, the centers’ services will not be limited to students. All business owners will be able to take advantage of the colleges’ resources to develop their operations, provided the business shows promise of growth and viability, Dominguez pointed out. Community colleges offer an array of specialty and certificate courses in hospitality, construction, communication, and other disciplines that could help a struggling business owner. After assessing a business owner’s needs, Dominguez can help her or him to enroll in appropriate classes or arrange a meeting with expert faculty members. If a business needs temporary workers, interns, or fresh graduates, the Business and Entrepreneurship Center can link them together. The colleges also have a network of attorneys and financial advisors, whose expertise can be instrumental to struggling businesses.

 “Anything that helps business people is good for the entire community,” according to David Garth, CEO of the San Luis Obispo Chamber of Commerce. Though Garth admires the program, he said, “I think the program is seriously underfunded.” Until the grant is received, Dominguez’s efforts have been limited to Cuesta College and businesses in Morro Bay. He’s advised the Days Inn and recently hosted a Morro Bay Chamber of Commerce breakfast that explored marketing techniques using Facebook. Besides being a business consultant, Dominguez is a professional musician who promotes his act and books gigs online.

“Facebook is the only thing I use to promote my website, and it really works,” he said. “It allows you to keep in touch with customers and clients in a way that nothing else can.”

 He walked a roomful of professionals through creating a profile and gave them tips on advertising and posting updates to increase sales. He said he plans on hosting more advanced workshops in the future. 

 Dominguez said technology, transportation, and renewable energy are the most likely industries to add jobs. His centers will focus on helping those sectors to expand and thrive. “You can’t give a blanket statement for guaranteed success,” said Dominguez. “Every business is different, but they all need a firm handle on their financial situation and our centers can help people achieve that.”

Intern Nick Powell can be reached via the editor at econnolly@newtimesslo.com.

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