By SOFIA LYNCH
Four years ago, Kelly McCrate was a culinary student at Washtenaw Community College in Kim Hurns’ marketing class with a dream of opening a food truck.
Before Hurns, interim dean of business and computer technologies, developed the idea of the WCC’s Entrepreneurship Center through the college’s strategic plan, her business management students like McCrate felt they had nowhere to go after their classes at the college.
“When we first started working on the strategic plan, I said ‘Students need to have an entrepreneurship center,’ and the president said, and she did not blink, ‘Just do it,’” Hurns said.
“We did not have the resources in one collective place for students. So what we landed on was that they needed the resources, and they needed the co-working space.”
On March 10, the evening of the grand opening, the Entrepreneurship Center was alive with a buzz of chatter and excitement being shared by the many attendees.
“We thought eight people were kinda maybe going to come today,” Hurns admitted – contradicted by the high turnout of community members and WCC staff and faculty.
In her opening remarks, Hurns explained how McCarte’s story represented the driving purpose of the center.
“This center exists because we did not have the resources he should have had to help him along the way to start that business,” Hurns said.
Today, McCrate owns and operates his own food truck, The Chow Haul, and supplied the food for the grand opening of the Entrepreneurship Center.
“The best thing I did this week was to give him a check,” Hurns said.
Michelle Mueller, vice president of economic, community and college development, gave WCC President Rose Bellanca’s remarks in her absence.
“This entrepreneurship center absolutely could not have happened without Kim,” Mueller said.
“Because of your vision and your commitment to this project, we’re here today.”
Since the Entrepreneurship Center’s open house in Nov. 2014, the center has been as busy as the event was itself. The open house had roughly 120 attendees, above and beyond the staff’s original expectation, according to Gapske, and has since had 107 intakes at the center.
Despite the heavy traffic the center has been hosting, the staff has noticed that locating the center has been a cause of confusion for many interested entrepreneurs.
The Entrepreneurship Center is located in the WCC Plant Operations building, which is only labeled “Facilities Management” on its exterior – something Hurns said she would like to see rectified. However, the Entrepreneurship Center was recently added to the directory signs throughout campus to make locating it easier.
“People still don’t find us, but we’ve got dedicated parking,” Kristin Gapske, the center’s manager added.
The Entrepreneurship Center is open to people at any step of the entrepreneurial process and offers help specialized to each person’s individual needs.
“That’s what we do. That’s sort of our niche,” Gapske said. “There’s a lot of business support organizations out there, but what we do is try to meet people where they’re at.”
Currently staffed by Gapske and two work-study students, the center has generated enough workflow to warrant another staff member – a center coordinator. However, it has been so busy, Hurns said, that Gapske hasn’t even had the time to hire someone into the new position yet.
“Kristin has been an excellent mentor to me,” said former WCC student and Entrepreneurship Center volunteer 30-year-old Ericka Vonyea. “She gave me all the resources that I need as far as the different workshops and classes to take. It’s just been a really rewarding experience.”
Aside from the personalized help offered by Gapske, the center offers appointment-based business counseling with Small Business Development Center representatives, business workshops and a collaborative co-working space where entrepreneurs can learn from each other.