Alliance looks to aid entrepreneurs

Last year’s Hub City Business Competition sparked formation of the Entrepreneur Council of Washington County, an ongoing effort to help people launch business ventures.

"Promoting entrepreneurship is part and parcel of good, solid economic development," said Kassie Lewis, director of business development for Washington County.

Entrepreneurs launch businesses and create jobs while contributing in other areas, she said.

"These are also the people who invest in the social welfare of the community," she said.

The council’s members include people who helped organize the business competition, such as representatives from business groups, governmental offices and educational institutions.

The aim is to "provide a one-stop shop for entrepreneurs, startups and existing businesses in Washington County," according to Robert Bower, a business consultant with the Washington County Small Business Development Center.

Bower said businesspeople seeking information or aid might be confused by the range of agencies and organizations. Some, for example, are designed to help counsel and mentor prospective business owners. Others are designed to provide funding. Some are aimed at high-tech companies. Some serve agricultural businesses.

Bower said the council is working to set up a website that will include a brief contact form. The information a person puts on the form will allow the council to determine who can best help.

Council members meet monthly, which will help the agencies and departments coordinate their efforts, Bower said.

"We’ll also consolidate the calendars, the events calendars, of each of the participating agencies, which again will make it more streamlined for the entrepreneur in that they can simply go to one location and see all of the events, all of the upcoming events that may be of interest to them and of use to them," Bower said.

Council members also plan to sponsor seminars, classes and workshops. And, true to its roots, the group plans to expand the business competition this year, Bower said.

"We hope to have three business competitions, at the high school, college and open — or professional — level," Bower said.

Paul Frey, president and chief executive officer of the Hagerstown-Washington County Chamber of Commerce, said he attended a seminar on “Being Entrepreneurial" last year.

"Communities that foster a culture of entrepreneurial thinking and behavior can foster collaboration, leverage shared resources, develop talent and facilitate conversations. Such communities can blend and leverage their existing cultural and economic assets with the entrepreneurial thinking and behavior," Frey wrote in an email.

"This ecosystem is then a means to attract larger companies because they need to acquire and use these new sources of creativity and innovation. Combined with our local quality of life, like arts and entertainment, cultural assets and education, we can create a ‘hub for the future.’ This includes attracting and keeping millennials, which strengthens the future of our community."

Membership

Members of the Entrepreneur Council of Washington County include:

• Hagerstown Department of Community and Economic Development

• Washington County Department of Business Development

• Technology Development Corporation of Maryland

• University System of Maryland at Hagerstown — Frostburg

• Hagerstown-Washington County Chamber of Commerce

• SCORE

• The Technical Innovation Center at Hagerstown Community College

• Washington County Small Business Development Center

Contact information

For information about the Entrepreneur Council of Washington County, contact Robert Bower, business consultant with the Washington County Small Business Development Center, at rebower@frostburg.edu or 888-237-9007, ext. 4.