A few local entrepreneurs have graduated from a new program that left them with confidence and guidance to sustain a viable business.

The first class of City Center of Waco’s new Workshop in Business Opportunities program graduated last week. Program director Cuevas Peacock said the program is based on the idea that people with an entrepreneurial spirit can be taught how to start and grow a profitable business that develops economic power, provides jobs and improves the community.

Peacock said the 16-week program is open to anyone but specifically targets low-income, underserved communities. Workshop in Business Opportunities is part of a national program founded in New York City’s Harlem neighborhood. The Waco course is the first in Texas, he said.

The first graduates were Erick Gama, co-owner of Rufi’s Cocina; Orva McCoy, owner of 2Pickle’d Gourmet Flavored Pickles; Johnny McDowell, owner of House of Legacy Publishing; and Linda Weaver, owner of Franklin Real Estate Development Co.

Entrepreneurs are the lifeblood of the community, said Andrea Barefield, City Center Waco main street manager.

“Organizations like City Center Waco and the people who have supported WIBO, it’s our responsibility to make sure our city’s lifeblood is sustained, merchants and small businesses owners, and we continue to do everything we can to make Waco grow.”

McDowell, who opened his publishing company in 2011 in Waco, said becoming an entrepreneur was a way to take control of his destiny.

When he heard about the class, he jumped at the opportunity to be part of the program, and he’s glad he did, he said.

McDowell said he gained new insights into marketing, promotions, taxes and administrative work. The program’s instructors were “Class A,” he said.

There was a chapter during class that each of the four students was stuck on. Instead of taking a week off for Christmas, the instructors agreed to keep meeting with the students to help them understand the material, McDowell said.

McDowell served some prison time and was released in 2007, he said. Since then, he has worked to bring his family together, start his business and secure clients. He said someone gave him a chance, and now he wants to do the same by helping someone in grade school publish a children’s book.

Think about their ‘why’

Barefield said she encouraged the students to think about their “why.” The marriage between the personal “why” and the business “why” allows a company to flourish, she said.

Many businesses don’t take advantage of resources available to them, which can add to their list of obstacles, she said. City Center Waco aims to ensure small businesses are connected to the resources they need, she said.

McCoy said she had her own business for about three years before she realized it wasn’t financially viable anymore.

After taking this class, she said she expects 2Pickle’d to be far more successful than her last venture. She opened for business in May and spent part of this week searching for a storefront in Waco to call home so she can move out of her kitchen.

Workshop in Business Opportunities instructors helped explain the importance of tracking finances, she said.

“The lady talked about having receipts in a shoebox. I was one of those,” McCoy said. “I’m learning to write those down.”

She said she also learned a lot about the hiring process.

“I do look forward to one day creating some jobs for the community, for people that are homemakers, people that want something extra to do after retirement,” McCoy said.

Various pickle flavors

The lifelong Waco resident said her pickles feature various flavors, including green apple, tropical punch, grape, candy apple and more.

“I’ve had many things I’ve done before, but none have given me what this gives me,” she said. “My personality is extreme. So in everything I do, I was told coming up as a kid and adult, ‘You are so extreme.’ So my extreme nature is in these pickles.”

Gama said he has run several kitchens over the years, but he has less experience on the management side.

The lessons on taxes and payroll were among the most useful for him, Gama said.

“The business end is the hard part for me, trying to read numbers and understand what those numbers mean,” he said.

Focus on many factors

Peacock said the Workshop in Business Opportunities course aims to focus on as many factors as possible, from human resources to networking and sustainability. Entrepreneurs help create their own community within a community and build fellowship, he said.

Baylor University paid for the first four students to attend the course, which ran at $350 each to cover materials, he said. Organizers are working to identify potential donors to help offset costs for participants for future courses.

Cassie L. Smith has covered county government for the Tribune-Herald since June 2014. She previously worked as a reporter for the Beaumont Enterprise and The Eagle in Bryan-College Station. Smith graduated from the University of Texas at Arlington.

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