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Thursday, Dec 8, 2022
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Hope Helps CEOs Learn Startup Skills

A marriage counselor and talented sculptor combines her passions to soothe the mind through art. A pair of culinary students starts a catering company specialized in homemade Mexican cuisine. And a veteran who spent two decades without a home is now in the process of establishing a sober living facility for former servicemen like himself. These are some of the 13 men and women who graduated from Operation Hope Inc.’s Entrepreneurial Training Program on Nov. 3. The national nonprofit seeks to improve financial literacy among low-income communities by partnering with local banks to conduct free classes on business development, home buying and credit and money management. Small Business Program Coordinator Gail Lara has led all four 12-week entrepreneurial classes since the organization set up an office inside OneWest Bank in Northridge last July. By recruiting successful business owners and investors to speak at each meeting, she offers participants access to information, connections and guidance they would not otherwise have. “There are so many resources out there, but it doesn’t matter if people don’t know about them or how to utilize them to build a business,” Lara explained. “Our program collaborates with all the resources available, so our entrepreneurs are on everyone’s radar.” The latest crop of entrepreneurs was privy to insights from consultant Richard Stern, online marketing guru Sara Avilles and Kathy Dixon of the IRS, among others. In addition to group workshops, some experts also sat down with participants one-on-one to offer feedback on their strategies. Graduate Kelly Ades, founder of education start-up Fundamentals in Life Lessons, was overcome with emotion after reviewing her business strategy with Dixon and program alum Ed Reyes. “Before (this class), I had no business plan – nothing,” she told the audience at graduation. “Earlier, I was reviewing my strategy with Kathy and Ed when I started to get all teary. … I realized that for the first time ever, [my business] felt real.” More aspiring entrepreneurs around the region will soon have the chance to share her experience. OneWest Bank plans to establish Operation Hope offices at another six branches over the next 18 months, according to Lara. The organization is also finalizing partnerships with two other major banks, though she could not disclose which ones. Lara said the agreements will result in “many, many” new locations for Operation Hope. – Helen Floersh

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