This story was written for WRAL TechWire Innovator partner Wake Technical Community College.

Half of new ventures fail within five years, according to Lewis Sheats, assistant vice provost for entrepreneurship at North Carolina State University, and executive director of the N.C. State University Entrepreneurship Clinic.

While the entrepreneurial road to a successful small business is paved with good intentions, intentions don’t yield results — proactivity, perseverance and hard work do.

However, it can be overwhelming to know where to begin. Obtaining loans, finding a mentor, learning to network and writing up a business plan can seem like daunting tasks to a first-time entrepreneur.

“New ventures face multiple challenges, and we see this every day at the Entrepreneurship Clinic,” Sheats said. “It is overwhelming for aspiring entrepreneurs to know where their efforts are best spent given so many choices in the entrepreneurship process.”

Program models like LaunchRALEIGH are helping give entrepreneurs the jump-start they need to begin their journey.

“The goal of LaunchRALEIGH is to help current and aspiring entrepreneurs successfully start and grow businesses through a four-step program — eight weeks of business education, mentoring, access to microloans and networking,” explained Matthew Kane, a member of the Rotary Club of North Raleigh, which helped found the program.

To commemorate 50 years of service in the community, the Rotary Club of North Raleigh created LaunchRALEIGH last year after seeing the success of a similar program in Michigan called LaunchDETROIT.

The mission of LaunchRALEIGH is to “support and develop entrepreneurs and small businesses in under-resourced communities in Southeast Raleigh,” according to its website.

Students must undergo a thorough application process that includes an in-depth interview, and must earn less than $60,000 annually.  Three cohorts have completed the LaunchRALEIGH eight-week training hosted by Shaw University, a program partner.

“It was important to Shaw to be a part of LaunchRALEIGH because Shaw already had an interest in entrepreneurs from Southeast Raleigh,” said Paulette Dillard, interim president of Shaw. “We were already doing some small-scale efforts through the small business resource center that [is] located on our campus, but we weren’t getting a lot of traction from individuals in Southeast Raleigh. So this allowed us to expand and get the word out by being a part of this partnership.”

The program application is open to anyone who meets the requirements regardless of ethnicity; however, an income preference helps maintain a focus on reaching lower resourced, minority and women entrepreneurs. Though minority-owned businesses still account for only 17.5 percent of employer businesses, black women open more businesses each year than any other group, according to Fortune.

“Of course, the LaunchRALEIGH program has been primarily African-American because that’s the personality of Southeast Raleigh, but the demographics are changing,” said Katie Gailes, director of Entrepreneurship Initiatives at Wake Technical Community College, who noted the increasing diversity in the most recent class.

Harold Mallette at LaunchRALEIGH

Harold Mallette presents his five-minute pitch for a business specializing in a diverse selection of cut-out photography. (Photo Courtesy of Wake Technical Community College)

Wake Tech is also a program partner, and Gailes is quick to point out that LaunchRALEIGH is about inclusivity — noting how many different institutions and organizations have come together to support the initiative.

“It’s like a potluck meal — everybody brings their dish,” Gailes said. “The dish that Wake Tech brings to the table is training. And the dish that Shaw brings to the table is the facility. The dish that Carolina Small Business Development Fund brings is financial expertise and access to capital.”

Germaine McIver-Cherry, the associate director of business services at Carolina Small Business Development Fund, provides financial counsel to LaunchRALEIGH students. CSBDF is a non-profit lender that supports entrepreneurs and small businesses, particularly in underserved communities across North Carolina.

McIver-Cherry said that participating in LaunchRALEIGH is one of the best parts of her job.

“I come from an underserved community, so I know that there’s oftentimes a lack of resources or lack of awareness that there are resources out there,” she said. “We really wanted to make sure that people who were accepted into the program have access to capital. We don’t encourage people to take out a loan if they actually don’t need it, but we do want to make sure that there is access to capital or opportunity.”

In her line of work, McIver-Cherry encounters people who need large sums of money for hefty business purchases, but said there are also people who need money for things as simple as a computer or as unique as a “boatload of hair” for a hair-braiding business. She said these types of entrepreneurs need access to capital geared toward their individual needs.

LaunchRALEIGH students are given simplified loan documents to review so they get a feel for what a real loan document looks like. They may also be guided through the process of seeking funding through KIVA, a crowdfunding lending platform.

LaunchRALEIGH classes have enrolled entrepreneurs from a variety of industries, ranging from a therapeutic coloring book company to a graphic design enterprise and a food truck business. Gailes emphasized that even though not every entrepreneur will find success, LaunchRALEIGH still helps propel business owners forward and gives them the right tools should they choose to embark on an entrepreneurial path.

While success stories aren’t the rule when it comes to LauchRALEIGH, they aren’t an exception either.

“In our most recent class, we had Tom Castelloe and his therapeutic coloring books. Before joining the class, Tom had sold very few books and had no way to accept non-cash payments,” McIver-Cherry explained. “With the guidance of the class facilitator and the encouragement of his classmates, Tom now has a credit card processing system, a Facebook page, and he was included in the News & Observer’s June 24 Book Beat. His books are available at Whole Foods and he has several book signings scheduled.”

Tom Castelloe at LaunchRALEIGH

Tom Castelloe presents his five-minute business pitch for therapeutic coloring books during LaunchRALEIGH’s spring graduation. (Photo Courtesy of Wake Technical Community College)

McIver-Cherry said witnessing the transformation of a student from their first day until graduation is “amazing.”

“It’s just good to see everything come together, in that it clicks. From the time I’m sitting there listening to them interview, to the time that they finish, it’s like ‘Wow, is that the same person?’ They’re really taking what they’re getting out of this program, and they’re actually applying it,” she said.

Looking toward the future, the model used for LaunchRALEIGH has gone national and serves as the base for the LaunchMyCity program, where any city can use the model as a blueprint to foster its entrepreneurial community.

“LaunchRALEIGH led to the birth of LaunchMyCity,” Gailes explained. “We took what we did at LaunchRALEIGH … it’s like it was the test kitchen.”

This has led to a LaunchWAKEFOREST, which graduated its first cohort in May, and applications are now being accepted for Fall 2018 programs in Wake Forest, Knightdale, Apex, Holly Springs, and Rolesville.

LaunchRALEIGH and LaunchMyCity have undoubtedly stirred the entrepreneurial pot, cooking up an appetite for this four-component program as more students learn about the program and enroll in the class. More businesses in a community also mean the production of more jobs.

“When we think about the ability individuals have to make a way for themselves, part of it is the ability to not only get a job, but the ability to create jobs. And that’s the only way you can transform a community really is to teach skills to build businesses that will help sustain the communities,” Dillard said.

It’s evident that LaunchRALEIGH not only affects its students but its administrators as well.

“This program is changing lives,” Kane said. “Recently a student approached me during class and said, ‘Matthew, I just want to thank you. I want to thank you for inviting me to this program, to let me be a part of it. I wasn’t quite sure what I was doing. But you all helped define what I do. You helped me be a better businessman. And I love you for that. My wife has been in the class with me and we’re stronger as a married couple now.’ After he said that, I went into my car and I wrote these things down, because I thought, ‘You know, this is beautiful.’ ”

Gailes said the biggest takeaway for her has been the power of collaboration.

“The power of teamwork and the relationships that you build reach beyond the program itself,” she said.

This story was written for WRAL TechWire Innovator partner Wake Technical Community College.