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It’s commonly believed that you need money to start a company, but a pair of British entrepreneurs are spreading a different message. Through their initiative PopUp Business School, Alan Donegan and his team train people with little capital, but a lot of ideas, how to turn their entrepreneurial visions into reality. Paul Solman reports on how the free program encourages aspiring innovators.
Most people think you need money to start a company, but the PopUp Business School is taking a completely different approach.
Our economics correspondent, Paul Solman, has the story.
It is part of our weekly series, Making Sense.
People don't want to interrupt, so they do this weird hover, like waiting for a gap. And then they kind of wait for the gap and go, hah-hah, yes.
At a Houston mall, zany British entrepreneurship coach Alan Donegan demonstrating how to network.
There is going to be a moment of awkwardness when you meet someone new. If you want it to be over, done quickly, go up to them and say, "Hi, I'm Alan."
This was day seven of a two-week PopUp Business School, which teaches the basics of starting a business on a shoestring.
People think they need to borrow money to launch a business.
No. Like, pretty much any business, you can start for free. It's not as easy. You have to be creative. You have to borrow things and barter. And you need to use your energy. But we haven't found a business that we can't yet find a way to start for free.
Come on, really?
But in the last seven years, Donegan and team have held over 100 workshops for mostly low-income wannabe entrepreneurs, in a world that thinks you need money to make money.
You don't want to put measure pressure on them and more debt on them. You want to help them make money, rather than get into debt.
The course is free, thanks here in Houston to sponsors like the Houston Housing Authority, which recruited people from the city's poorest neighborhoods, like Sylvia Guilliam, teeming with ideas.
I do holistic health projects. I wanted to do actually one-on-one health and wellness coaching.
But the course helps her to focus on homemade soaps and taught her the free tools to sell them.
So, I learned how the make a Web site and just building relationships.
Another lesson, how to sell yourself.
Is there any advantage to being a tall entrepreneur?
Yes. People can see me coming, and I can see them coming. So…
The first six days were about creating a company, finding customers. Now was time to actually sell in the mall.
If you do a survey, people will be nice to you. If you go and ask your friends, they will be mice to you. It's not good feedback. You ask a customer to take their money out of their pocket, they will tell you exactly what they want.
Guilliam quickly discovered her soap samples looked good, too good.
Somebody actually ate one of these?
Yes, because they're all natural things in the kitchen, connected to food. That's why I just have to let people know, don't eat it.
In her victims' defense, edible samples abounded.
Do you have hair on your chest?
OK. This will put more on it.
I specialize in brownies, butterscotch, peach cobbler, chocolate caramel, and these are butterscotch.
Kevin Scott designs clothes, promotes events, and already has a Houston following.
What I wanted to do doing this training is concentrate on just one business and use it as a model. Even though I have already a business going, I didn't do everything 100 percent correct.
Cheryn Pollard was demoing dog massage.
Now, I'm allergic, so I shouldn't…
You're allergic to dogs?
My love overcomes it.
Pollard's main takeaway from the course, how to start cheap.
This massage bed is actually — someone was selling it to humans for doing facials.
And they couldn't sell it because it has some stains on it. Well, I cover it up when I'm using it for dogs, so I got a massage table for $25.
Also, over the years, a drone flying school, an escape room, clown entertainment, hand balancing.
And there was a zombie fitness training lady.
A zombie fitness training lady? How does that work?
She would dress up as a zombie and chase you around the park, and you would run. And you would get fit.
No way, thought Donegan, but it turns out there is now a zombie fitness movement worldwide.
Seriously, though, how many of these ideas have become viable companies?
In Reading, in Berkshire, in England, we did a longitudinal study, which is basically tracking people over time after the event.
We ran three courses, had 335 people along for the three courses. Of those, 122 started a business. Eighteen months later, 89 percent were still trading. And I really do think that's because they started without debt, so they didn't have anything at the most vulnerable point of their business that would drag them down.
In Houston, some seemed more vulnerable than others.
Single mom Nakia Sims, despite a law degree, has had her struggles.
The house burned down. We stayed in hotels. And so I could not afford that. I went to my church. They suggested the Salvation Army. We lived there for six months.
She's now in public housing, learning to concentrate her considerable talents on a theater business to entertain kids.
The opportunity here is meeting other people that are holding me accountable.
Christall Sipsey has learned social media marketing for her health and media consultancy.
There are pod groups that you can create among certain friends, and that helps kind of blast your information out a lot further.
At the booth next door, James Barnett, Sipsey's dad.
That's my biggest fan right there.
Barnett came to the mall at his daughter's urging to promote his specialty sauce.
I have been making this sauce for years and giving it away. Family, friends said, hey, you ought to sell this. This stuff is good.
I have been calling him on the phone and filling his ear up with all kind of information that I'm learning.
Calling her dad and coming home at night to advise her husband, Konkheis, on his new business.
Every day, she comes home, I get an earful, at least 45 minutes to an hour, until I fall asleep.
The family was in a homeless shelter just a few years ago. Now dad is starting a youth sports program.
I have been where these kids have been. I had a promising future in basketball, but since no father figure, no good role model to try to guide me to where I should be going, I took another route, stealing, breaking windows.
Just had nothing to do. So I'm trying to give kids something to do. Some are being called to the streets in gang violence. It's just not what I want to see.
Christall Sipsey is teaching her husband everything she's learning at the PopUp B School, because his business could mean so much both to him and to others.
As Donegan puts it:
We help people build businesses from something they love to do.
Even those with no obvious resources at all.
They just have got a phone, or they don't have technical skills. Like, there's people without bank accounts, no e-mail addresses.
But may be able to throw together some ingredients, add their own sweat equity, and sell.
We have pork, cream cheese. We have jalapenos, spinach.
Some will take off.
It's really good.
Many won't, but says Donegan:
If you have spent a week coming up with the idea, and you launch, if it doesn't work, you have lost a bit of time, maybe a bit of pride, but we can pick you up and give you the energy to have another go.
And most people's successes are not first business they run.
Should I do the, like, hover on the edge and wait?
And if they know how to try again for almost nothing, maybe they will take another plunge.
Wow, that is…
"PBS NewsHour" economics correspondent Paul Solman, sampling fare at the Memorial City Mall in Houston, Texas.
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Paul Solman has been a business, economics and occasional art correspondent for the PBS NewsHour since 1985.
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