The loneliness of being an entrepreneur in an outlying community has finally lifted for Lake Isabella barber Stan Crawford.
Since signing up for a 10-week course in Kernville focused on building a successful business, he has joined a supportive community of people committed to starting or improving their own enterprises.
“What I really appreciated about it is, I live in a really small, rural community, and it’s really hard for me to get access to other entrepreneurs. That’s why it’s so beneficial to me,” said Crawford, who recently bought a building on Lake Isabella Boulevard for the launch of a guild he’s starting to trim barbers’ booth rental costs.
Rural entrepreneurs like him are receiving kindred support with the expansion of a public-private program that, after kicking off in Kernville this spring, has expanded to Tehachapi and looks to launch in two more of Kern County’s outlying areas by the end of next year.
This week, the Kern Initiative for Talent + Entrepreneurship, a collaboration between the locally based SeedCore Foundation and the Kern Economic Development Corp., is graduating its second class of local entrepreneurs in Kernville — while also wrapping up a first cohort in Tehachapi. New classes will kick off in the spring.
The courses consist of weekly, three-hour sessions featuring a guest speaker and guidance through licensed materials and resources on an array of practical topics for new and existing business owners.
About half a dozen people enrolled in each of the Kernville classes, said the course facilitator, Justin Powers, who founded and owns the course venue, Kernville Cowork.
Powers was recently put in charge of expanding the program to other parts of the county’s periphery, likely in western Kern next, but eventually at least one more location in the eastern part of the county.
SeedCore Director Danielle Patterson said Powers helped KITE see the gap between its focus in Bakersfield and the needs of underserved, outlying communities like the southern Sierra Nevada.
She said it’s important that facilitators speak with the same voice, from the same culture, as entrepreneurs in the target communities.
For Powers, the critical element is improving access to resources entrepreneurs need. The goal, he said, is to build an entrepreneurial community of people who hold each other to account, who help each other figure out what they need to start their businesses.
The courses cost $200 and come with a binder full of useful information for businesses. The hope is that classmates keep in touch with each other after the course is done, Powers said.
A challenge for him is reaching the kind of rugged individualists who, living in remote communities, tend to put their head down and not lift it until their project is done.
“Sometimes it’s really hard to reach those people,” he said, adding that once individuals like that come around, they often become heavily invested in the group.
But when it comes together, Powers said, the result can be transformative, not just for individuals but for entire communities.
“Not only does it help these entrepreneurs get a very solid foundation for their businesses, and a lot more support than they would otherwise get,” he said, “(but it) is changing the ways that the small communities see themselves, and their identity.”
Kernville entrepreneur Karen Heggen said she loved her experience at the course at Kernville Cowork. In the last 30 years, she has opened seven companies of various longevities, and now she sees she “definitely needed this 30 years ago.”
“As you start to get deeper into the subject matter,” she said, “you start realizing there was so much you didn’t know that you didn’t know that you needed to know.”
As she pushes forward with her business idea for The Accountable Accountant, specializing in serving startups and small and medium-sized businesses, Heggen said she looks forward to meeting up regularly with fellow entrepreneurs in her area.
Teresa Weygandt, another longtime entrepreneur living in the Kern River Valley who took part in sessions at Kernville Cowork, said she thought they were amazing.
They provided practical advice and a good groundwork for her future endeavors, she said, regardless of whether she moves forward with the huge commitment her current business idea would require. She said the class itself was, by comparison, a minimal commitment.
Weygandt was pleased to hear of the organization’s expansion plans.
“I think it supports the community,” she said. “It supports growth in the area.”
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