For more than three decades, the Central Community College Entrepreneurship Center has been encouraging the formation of new small businesses and assisting existing small businesses with growth opportunities.
With locations in Columbus and Hastings, the Entrepreneurship Center provides services such as business planning and coaching, startup funding and space for new businesses. Finding opportunities is accomplished through appropriate methods for each constituent. For community entrepreneurs, the center aims to coordinate with chambers and economic development organizations to identify needs and opportunities to enhance community outreach.
Low-interest loans of up to $20,000 are available for new and existing businesses at an interest rate of 4 to 5 percent and are amortized over five years. The capital loan fund is overseen by the CCC Foundation and all loans are reviewed and approved by a board of directors.
Both centers are led by seasoned consultants. Doris Lux is the director of the Entrepreneurship Center in Columbus. She is a retired business administration instructor at the Columbus Campus and continues to operate her own business. The director of the Entrepreneurship Center in Hastings is Maggie Esch, who previously served as director of talent solutions for the Hastings Economic Development Corporation, and continues to run the family business.
Over the years, several would-be entrepreneurs have utilized the services of the Entrepreneurship Center. Some have elected to table their business ventures while some have taken the plunge and opened their own businesses. Here is a close-up on four individuals who have opened for business with help from the Entrepreneurship Center:
Even though Mikaela Krueger opened Optika in December 2020, she had been developing her business concept since 2014. It began with a dinner discussion with Maggie Esch before her days with CCC. Esch informed Krueger about local groups and organizations that could help her and that she did not have to do it on her own. Krueger notes that Esch was careful not to overwhelm her.
“(Maggie) didn’t give me 25 different things that I needed to do,” said Krueger. “She was like, ‘Hey, let’s talk about this small section,’ and then each time I would see her, she was more and more supportive.”
Krueger encourages anyone interested in becoming an entrepreneur to take advantage of CCC’s Entrepreneurship Center to learn about the many facets of owning a business and the patience involved.
“They say the number-one reason that businesses succeed is timing,” said Krueger. “It will fall into place and you will know when it’s the right time.”
Something unique about Optika is that it includes an art gallery. Krueger loves art and wants to give artists a place to display their works. She is eager to help them get a start much like the Entrepreneurship Center has helped her.
Cody Lawson first met Doris Lux shortly before he opened his tech support business in 2010. Early on, there were numerous meetings while the startup business got off the ground and eventually, they met monthly. Now, 11 years later, Lawson and Lux still meet each month.
“We kind of joke around because she’s our boss, so to speak,” Lawson said with a chuckle. “What’s real nice about Doris is I have her phone number and I can just call her anytime, so it’s not just once a month.”
Cody’s Computer Repair began as a home-based business before moving to small shop in downtown Central City two years later. Two years passed and Lawson moved his business to its present location. Now, he said the company has outgrown its facility again. Lawson and Lux have had countless meetings about the logistics of moving to a larger building in Central City.
Lawson said he heeds a lot of Lux’s advice given that she is a successful business owner. However, there was one notable exception.
“She told me that we needed a website, and I said I didn’t have time for a website,” said Lawson. “I said, ‘I’m going to run this business by word-of-mouth (advertising).’ If I can run it through word-of-mouth, then I know I will be successful.”
Since then, Lawson’s client base has grown to over 8,000 with clients all over the country without paid advertising.
Chelsey Morten’s trek to opening Lemon & Co. Juicery received a major boost when she won Big Idea Hastings, a contest based on the TV reality program “Shark Tank.” Contestants pitch their business ideas to a panel and the winner receives $1,000 and a resource package that includes meetings with accountants, lawyers and other providers that help the winner bring their business idea to fruition.
Morten is especially appreciative to Maggie Esch for the 11-months’ worth of guidance she provided, especially in helping her write a business plan as she did not have a business background. As a frame of reference, a small business plan can be 30 to 50 pages long.
“Maggie really helped me narrow in on the very specific and important parts of my business plan because I was, ‘I know all the answers,’” Morten said. “She told me, ‘No. You need to write this down, you need to do your research, you need to actually dissect this and really think about it.’”
Lemon & Co. Juicery has been open for six months and Morten said there is still a lot she doesn’t know, and she is learning every day. Despite the unknowns, she knows that Hastings was the right place to set up shop.
“Once I opened, I saw how supportive the community is and that people really want your business to do well,” said Morten. “People around here really support small businesses and the best part about that is that they can walk into my store and know who I am.”
Yara Ramos-Hernandez has a unique story when it comes to opening her graphic design business. After graduating from the University of Havana in Cuba, she operated a graphic design business for 20 years. While one could say she owned her own business, it wasn’t her business. That’s because in Cuba, the government owns everything. Ramos-Hernandez said even her graphic design education excluded necessary elements for operating a business in a free market.
“They were not teaching anything about marketing, accounting for business, business-to-business relationships, nothing like that,” said Ramos-Hernandez.
In 2013, Ramos-Hernandez moved to Columbus and began working for Cargill. Two years later, she was anxious to start her own graphic design business but was unsure of where to start. She went to the Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce and they put her in contact with Doris Lux, who has been instrumental in helping Ramos-Hernandez learn the business education skills she needed.
“Doris is my mentor,” said Ramos-Hernandez. “I really trust her. Everything she says is straightforward and she doesn’t withhold anything from me.”
Ramos-Hernandez leased an office at the Entrepreneurship Center when it was located at the Nebraska Public Power District building. When the Entrepreneurship Center moved to the BigIron Realty complex, she moved there too. Having Lux right next door is a luxury Ramos- Hernandez never wants to give up.
“I hope she never moves out of state, because I will have to as well,” Ramos-Hernandez said with a laugh.