New Gulfport center helps entrepreneurs launch businesses

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - Are you a woman who dreams of opening your own business, but is too afraid to take a risk or face financial obstacles? A new program just started in Gulfport that's dedicated to helping female entrepreneurs launch a new career. It's the only center of its kind in Mississippi.

"I am so in love with this program. Ask anybody up in Washington," Susan Byers told a crowd of about 100 people Wednesday.

Byers is a Program Manager for the U.S. Small Business Administration. She joined city and community leaders in celebrating the opening of the Women's Business Center in Gulfport.

"Supporting programs like this makes us all better and encourages other folks to really step out on their own," said Gulfport Mayor Billy Hewes.

The center is the latest addition at Climb CDC on 30th Avenue. Entrepreneurs, mainly minorities and people from disadvantaged backgrounds, can learn how to set business goals, apply for loans and get one-on-one counseling. The services are all free.

"We couldn't be happier. Our mission here at Climb CDC is to promote strong communities by providing individuals access and inspire self reliance. That's exactly what this Women's Business Center is going to do," said Climb CDC CEO Lori West.

So far, 30 people have enrolled in the program.

"We weren't surprised. We knew that the environment was there. We knew that folks needed access to education and to bankable opportunities. We're just excited that we have the support of the community."

Deidra McDonald is a client who wants to revive her career as a massage therapist.

"Just learning how to write up a business plan, open up businesses, stand on my own, not be afraid to go out there and really tackle the world when they're putting limitations on you," said McDonald.

Men are also invited to sign up. Deitrich McClain wants to open a school to train young people who are interested in the entertainment industry.

"Oh, I think it's awesome," said McClain.

"We definitely need more programs like this within our community. It gives you a resource, especially when you don't have any employees. Kind of getting some pointers from people who've already been there and can point you in the right direction."

The resources and mentoring they receive can help the entrepreneurs overcome their fears and challenges, so their business can get off the ground and grow.

"Maybe I'll have a franchise. Maybe I'll have several spas opening. That's my goal," said McDonald.

"My hopes are that we have many more businesses and the entire community benefits from this. And the folks that we graduate from this program will be able to hire and it'll be a residual effect," said West.

The SBA provided the initial grant to open the center. Local banks, the United Way and other organizations pitched-in with additional funding and technical assistance.

The program in Gulfport is one of about 110 Women's Business Centers in the United States. To sign-up or to get more information about the program, call Climb CDC at (228) 864-6677.

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