The Alabama Entrepreneurial Research Network aims to help new rural entrepreneurs through increased resource availability.
Founded in 2001 and based from the College of Commerce of the University of Alabama, the program already has resources established in 14 counties throughout rural Alabama, and plans to expand.
"Most of our focus is across the 'black belt' of Alabama, referring to the richness of the soil," said Program Director Annette Watters. "It also tends to be a poorer region, so we really focus on increasing the amount of economic activity in those areas."
Watters said the Entrepreneurial Research Network hosts seminars and workshops on-site at their partner agencies in each county, such as organizations like the local chamber of commerce and public library. Such workshops focus on helping first-time entrepreneurs learn to make business plans, gain financing, and determine the market area. Computers and other equipment are available on-site and on the Web for increased start-up business efficiency.
"The businesses we see most (use our seminars and workshops) tend to be service-providing businesses — restaurants, beauty shops, a few convenience stores," said Watters. "Our entrepreneurs focus on goods and services in a local market by finding a niche in their community."
Workshops and seminars are held various times throughout the year depending on the need in any specific county. All take place at the Entrepreneurial Research Network's county partners; the University of Alabama hosts an annual training for the partners every August.
Watters said the Entrepreneurial Research Network has recently been expanded to Chambers and Tallapoosa counties, which will host grand-opening ceremonies in June to increase local awareness about the new community resources.
Their work is supported by several federal grants. "It's basic business research for beginning entrepreneurs," Watters said. "It's targeted towards a specific area, but not restricted. Anyone who is interested can take part in the services we offer."
For more information about the Alabama Entrepreneurial Research Network, visit their Web site at http://aern.cba.ua.edu/.