(Kristin Eberts) [Order this photo]
More than 550 people in Southeast Missouri have completed this free six-week entrepreneurship training program offered by the Southeast Missouri State University Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship since 2006.
From 38 Operation Jump Start classes held, graduates have started more than 200 small businesses, creating more than 350 jobs.
This year the program is expanding to four new sites with help from a $153,903 grant from the Delta Regional Authority awarded in February.
"The biggest benefit was creating a business plan," said Jason Buxton of Farmington, Mo., owner of Graphic Options in Farmington. "It showed us how to go after our target customers and mark up our products to make a profit. It really showed us what we were doing wrong and what we were doing right."
Since completing Operation Jump Start in 2006, his business has grown, offering custom graphics on T-shirts, signs and even cars. He and his wife, Jessica, work in the business with two additional employees. At the completion of the Operation Jump Start program, participants' business plans compete for seed grants to help them invest in their fledgling companies. Buxton received grant funds and used them to purchase a new computer and a heat press used to apply graphics to clothing.
"I'm still in business. Everything we've done hasn't been a success, but we're still here," Buxton said.
He's used the workbook from the Operation Jump Start program to create feasibility plans for other businesses, some of which he's now started, and others he realized weren't a good investment.
"I've saved myself a lot of heartache by finding out what seemed like a good idea, but wouldn't make me any money," Buxton said. He has since started a commercial leasing company, a residential rental property business and a small stock trading business.
The Operation Jump Start program allowed Julie Bricknell to turn her hobby, pottery, into a revenue-generating business. She'd been selling her clay creations at local craft fairs, but after Operation Jump Start was able to take her company, J. Brick Pottery, a step further.
"Most of what I changed was the point of sale," she said. "I now have pieces in galleries, coffee shops and museums. Now I take orders for specific items. I've already sold what I'm making now."
Bricknell received grant funding after completing the Operation Jump Start Program to purchase a pug mill, which remixes used clay, saving her time and reducing material waste.
After she went through the program four years ago, she encouraged her husband, Steve, to take the Operation Jump Start course to create a business plan for a winery they had dreams of opening.
"Eventually, we'd like to quit our day jobs," said Bricknell, who works as an occupational therapist. Her husband works as a respiratory therapist, but has been growing grapes for 10 years is now overseeing the winemaking process at the soon-to-open Rothbrick Crush Vineyard.
"It's a good eye-opener," Bricknell said about Operation Jump Start. "You really have to be willing to devote 110 percent to your business. It's up to you to make it succeed."
Operation Jump Start classes for this spring are either complete or already in progress in Ironton, Marble Hill, Cape Girardeau and Sikeston, Mo. The course will be offered again this fall. To register or for more information, call 651-2929 or visit www.semo.edu/cie.