"This program is a godsend." says Debra Meadows, "It's a dream come true, and I'm going to take advantage of it."
Debra Meadows is one of 32 participants in a new state program called BOSS (Business Owners Start-up Service). It is designed for low-income people who want to start their own businesses. She will soon become the owner of a hair and nail salon.
Maryland's Self Employment Initiative is a four-year demonstration project aimed at assisting low income men and women achieve self-sufficiency through business ownership.
BOSS is the initial pilot program based in the Baltimore metropolitan region. Through this program, unemployed and underemployed persons will enroll in a four-month training program that will equip them with knowledge and practical experience about business structure and business planning and the day-to-day functions of a business.
The participants will formulate their ideas into business plans with staff assistance. Technical management assistance will be provided during the training and as follow-up by the BOSS program staff.
Bonnie Birker is director of the BOSS program. "I am a firm promoter of the idea that you are not going to empower families to become self-sufficient unless the system deals with the integration of social and economic development programs together," she says.
Key to the success of the BOSS plan will be the availability of capital to bring each business idea from the conceptual stage to operational status.
Robert Embry, president of the Abell Foundation, has long urged the state to become involved in the BOSS approach, which is being hailed as one of the best hopes for transforming the nation's welfare system, but the state originally turned it down.
One of the things the state didn't have, which is critical to any of these programs, is access to capital. They don't work when you have to go to a bank and try to persuade a bank to lend money a person with no credit. So we put up, to begin with, $100,000 for a loan fund so that when people complete the program they will have access to money to begin without any red tape."
The loan fund will be managed by the Council for Equal Business Opportunity, which will add an additional $20,000 yearly over a four-year period and will also provide technical assistance to clients and staff.
The BOSS program is managed by the Office of Employment Training of the State Department of Economic and Employment Development (DEED). The program will serve a diverse population. It will address the needs of a larger segment of unemployed and underemployed people including dislocated workers, displaced homemakers and the working poor.
"And so the idea of why not encourage some group of people who are going through Project Independence to be their own bosses, to be entrepreneurs was suggested. So we looked around and met some of the people involved with the Corporation for Enterprise Development and saw what they have been doing in some of the other states, and combined some of our own ideas with theirs."
The 1990s will be the era of the entrepreneur, especially in Maryland, which is moving toward developing entrepreneurial and commercially oriented initiatives.
"Entrepreneurial activity is something that we want to encourage everywhere in the state," Mr. Evans says, "whether it's professors at universities who are doing advanced research, or people who are in federal labs, or entrepreneurs who are trying to start new retail businesses and services in their communities. That's where the growth of the economy comes from, people who start businesses. So we want to encourage it.
"But what I also hope we get out of the BOSS program are the stories about the individuals, because a lot of what we are trying to do is give people a vision or some model, or example of how someone has been able to achieve a dream, in spite of all the problems that go into starting a business."
Michele Tiurabassi-Glos is going into the janitorial business. "I really wanted this opportunity to go into business for myself. And when I was selected as one of the participants, I felt honored. I hope I can achieve my goals and desires for myself and my daughter."
Athena Young will run a bookkeeping service, called The Future, which will cater to day care centers.
Once financing is obtained and the business starts, technical assistance and mentor support will be provided.
For more information on the BOSS program, call 625-2002.