Success sparks in Wabash County with Co.Starters

May 14th, 2018

By Gwen Clayton | Greater Fort Wayne Business Weekly

Marcia Greene sits at her sewing machine with a measuring tape wrapped around her shoulders.

She’s surrounded by prom dresses, handmade soaps and elaborately painted pottery as she works in her shop down the hall inside Market Street Square in Wabash.

Marcia and her husband Bob graduated from Grow Wabash County’s Co.Starters entrepreneurship class in 2017. At the time they took the course, they had already started Greene Enterprises back in 2013, selling Polish pottery at the local farmers market, then moved into a shop across from Wabash City Hall. But they felt they needed a little more business savvy, so they enrolled in the Co.Starters class.

“It was a program to help people who wanted to be entrepreneurs and maybe have no idea what to do, no idea where to start or maybe already having started and needing a little more direction,” Greene said. “When we took the course, we had begun to sell some Polish Pottery in the shop and had been doing it at the farmers market, but really we had no idea where we were going, what were doing, or what our legal responsibilities were so we took this course and it was very, very helpful.”

Today, they are located at 56 W. Market St., Suite 6, and have added Marcia’s sewing business as well as the occasional bath-and-beauty item under the umbrella of Greene Enterprises, also known as Babka’s Polish Potter and Babka’s Pins and Needles.

The Co.Starters entrepreneur class is a joint effort between Grow Wabash County — the county’s combined economic-development organization and chamber of commerce — along with Manchester University and Inguard Insurance. Made possible through a grant from the Community Foundation of Wabash County, “Co.Starters is a nationally recognized program that equips aspiring entrepreneurs with the insights, relationships and tools needed to turn ideas into action and turn a passion into a sustainable and thriving endeavor,” the website said.

The nine-week class features modules taught by local business leaders and cover topics related to launching and managing a successful business. Classes are held at the Innovate co-working space located in the basement of Inguard Insurance, 231 W. Canal St. in Wabash. The cost for the course is $300 to cover cost of materials, although financial grants are available for those needing assistance.

Greene thinks it was worth the money.

“One thing in this course that they say is people who take this course don’t always go ahead and do their business because they realize they’re not ready or that’s not really what they wanted in the first place,” she said. “They just had a misconception about what being a business person was. So not everybody who takes the course ends up starting their business. We found that very helpful because we thought if we have to quit, at least we’re not losers. But we didn’t quit. We kept going.”

But they didn’t quit. In fact, their business grew and continues to do well. The new location “is a little off the beaten path,” Greene said, “but there’s a lot of foot traffic down this road so we pull people in that way.”

She added the sewing ventures this past February “and it has absolutely blossomed,” she said. “Besides, it’s prom season so girls are bringing in a lot of dresses in. Taking the course has really given us confidence to go on. Not always that we’re going to succeed, but confidence in that we’re probably doing the right thing at the right time and if it flies, great. If it doesn’t, then it doesn’t.”

In addition to the Co.Starters program, Grow Wabash County is also joining with Wabash City Schools to set up an entrepreneurial program called Incubator EDU.

“It’s kind of a branded program that started in a high school in Chicago and has since been going across the country,” said Keith Gillenwater, president and CEO of Grow Wabash County Inc.

The entrepreneurial spirit is strong in Wabash County.

“We’ve had a lot of big, once-in-a-lifetime sorts of projects that you get all of the things aligned and then it happens right,” Gillenwater said. “It’s a success-begets-success sort of thing. You start having some big projects and it sparks other people to want to improve their properties and those kinds of things and then you have a plan in place and start following that plan and never keep your mind closed to opportunities. And it’s been paying dividends.”