Waco’s entrepreneurial community is a puzzle composed of many vital pieces. One of those pieces is City Center Waco and WIBO–Workshop in Business Opportunity. WIBO is a program offered across the country, but more importantly right here in Waco, Texas. We sat down with City Center’s Megan Henderson to gain a clear understanding of the ins-and-outs of WIBO.
For starters, can you explain WIBO? How often are workshops provided?
WIBO is a 16-week entrepreneurship training program originally developed in Harlem, and it has been around for 30 years. There are probably a dozen programs across the country, but Waco is one of the smallest cities to offer the program. Among the things we like about it are that it really focuses on the practical aspect of running a business. It’s fairly comprehensive in that it really digs into lots of different components. It was developed with the underserved entrepreneurship populations in mind.
Who teaches at the various workshops?
One of the great things about WIBO is it employs volunteer teachers for each of the segments – members of industry, operators and owners of businesses, folks who have been around the block a few times. So it’s not just the benefit of their knowledge about the subject in the class, it’s that at the end of the 16 weeks, these people have a rolodex. So, if something comes up that was not covered in class, they have someone they can call, and that is a really big advantage.
How many have successfully completed the WIBO program? What makes it unique to the entrepreneurial community?
We’ve had two cohorts and would like to do one to two per year. We aim to have nice full class because there needs to be enough people in the room to bounce ideas off of each other. One of the things that keeps people from going out on a limb and starting a new business is the sense of being alone in that endeavor. To the extent that we create a community, people are much more likely to get started and to stay in business. Graduates of the WIBO program are four to five times more likely to still be in business after five years than people who have not been through a program like that. We also like WIBO as a fit for us because it does not take us out of our wheelhouse. We pull in partners that are in that business, so we’ve partnered with the Hispanic Chamber, African American Chamber, Greater Waco Chamber, Business and Industry to bring in those subject matter experts.
What do you hope people take away from the program?
A long time ago I was taught that to have a successful business you need three things: the maker of the product, the seller of the product and the person who knows if you’re making money or not. What I was taught is nobody is all three of those things. So, if part of WIBO is to teach people which one or two you are and what you need another person to do, how do you ask for that and where it comes from, that’s a valuable thing that I think a lot of people starting out in business don’t know. It’s not about teaching people to be everything, it’s about teaching people to understand what their business needs and what they can and can’t give it.
Who is the WIBO program open to and how do you recruit for it?
The WIBO program is open to anybody who feels like it’s the right time for them to invest in this practical knowledge that would help them either start a new business or support and grow their existing business. A lot of it is literally person-to-person networking, to let people know this is a thing available to them. Usually some degree of scholarship is available to help cover some of the program costs, which are $350 per person.
Do you see Start Up Waco as a platform for WIBO?
Absolutely. I see Start Up Waco as being a no wrong door, first stop for someone who wants to start a business no matter what kind of business it is. One of the big inhibitions to starting a business is that we are an incredibly risk averse culture. Start Up Waco understands our part of the ecosystem, the niche that we serve, and can connect people to it while creating a culture that celebrates trying and failing. This process plays an intrinsic part of having an entrepreneurial community. Seeing failure as a necessary part of the process is a thing that people have to be taught. And Start Up Waco creates that community, that conversation, that place where failures are just as important as successes, and that is an incredibly valuable thing.