Center for Entrepreneurship

June 23, 2021

Photography submitted by Missouri Western State University


DEFINITION: The accomplishment of an aim or purpose.

What does it take to turn a business idea into a thriving reality? In St. Joseph, the formula for success is well-defined: The spark or “drive” to make it happen; the willingness to make a plan; and the expert-level guidance from the Center for Entrepreneurship, a unique initiative of Missouri Western State University (MWSU).

Founded in 2014, the Center for Entrepreneurship helps train, mentor and support local business owners and budding entrepreneurs. Led by Annette Weeks, a long-time area professional business development expert, the Center’s services can be considered part business coaching; part entrepreneurial think tank; and part support and guidance for the fundamental building blocks of a successful venture.

Weeks, who serves as Executive Director of the Center, says the Center specializes in helping business owners and entrepreneurs discover potential they didn’t even knew they had. “This is a place of professional growth, “ she says. “From the start of a new business to the growth and planning on an existing one, it is our mission to help people reach their dreams and goals – and we have many success stories to share along that path.”

She adds that many times, the Center receives a “thank you” from clients who have achieved their goals and didn’t even realize they had the skills inside themselves. In fact, in a recent survey, St. Joseph was named #17 in good places to start a small business. Weeks says the ability for the Center for Entrepreneurship to work so proactively within the community for startups, and to determine key points of entry as people seek assistance and advice contributes to this rank. “Small business owners know they have the community support and that we value their contributions and creativity. You don’t find that in every city our size.”

For some clients, the process can involve local students from MWSU, sharing their individual and group knowledge and tackling individual business challenges alongside course professors. This can include business strategy planning, marketing, business projections, managing finances and even succession planning when an existing business owners seeks to transition away from the business.

“Our ability to involve the ideas and talent of university students, alongside our own Center leadership, creates a special and impactful program,” says Weeks. “This is a special university and business community partnership – especially because all the services offered are available to community members at no cost to them.”

Outside the classrooms, Weeks explains, there’s s space for the interactions and relationships across the independently-owned shops and restaurants local students enjoy. It creates a kind of synergy that can only become more impactful as new generations of business owners and students come together. “When we create new and exciting businesses that students want to visit, we create an atmosphere where more younger people and younger families can eventually choose to stay and put their talents into.”

This philosophy of engaging local talent to help local business owners or entrepreneurs maximize their own talent aligns with St. Joseph’s overall 2040 plan, called Imagine St. Joseph 2040. The plan, launched by the St. Joseph Chamber of Commerce and the United Way of Greater St. Joseph, represents over 2,000 hours of ideas and collaboration by several community businesses and community members to identify the city’s best areas of growth and potential. One of the core areas identified is Investing In People, built around ensuring that education from Kindergarten through two and four-year degrees creates a dynamic workforce full of top-notch resources.

“We’ve always been about investing in people as they grow their business. Entrepreneurship is very personal because it involves people’s dreams. Through our work to bring those dreams to life, we also fuel the local economy and keep the creative spark going,” Weeks says. “It’s a privilege to be located at the University campus and to tie our efforts in with student and adult learning opportunities whenever possible.”

Weeks adds that 80 percent of the people served by the Center for Entrepreneurship are local community members. “It’s really exciting to see someone who has a nugget of a dream, but doesn’t yet know how to begin, and turn that into a valid and successful business plan. We allow them to take what they’re good it and create that business opportunity from all aspects, and it’s a formula we have down pat.”

As a natural outcome of this work, the Center is also helping fuel the “Grow Prosperity” goal of the Imagine St. Joseph 2040 plan. As Weeks explains, it’s about growing the entire community and one business growth benefits others.

“Prosperity from small business helps boost job creation, boosts our tax base and adds so much personality to our community and uniqueness to our whole region,” she says. “It means more students, individuals and families can choose to build their lives here, and as they bring their own business dreams to life, the cycle just keeps going.”


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