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COMMUNITY NEWS: MID-CITY

A Special Report: Jobs : Mentoring Program Nurtures Businesses

July 11, 1993|JAKE DOHERTY

With employers laying off workers in droves and reeling from the devastation of last year's riots, the founders of The Next Step are looking beyond traditional job-training programs toward developing community-based businesses that they hope will create jobs.

Linda Johnson, one of the mentoring program's clients, understands the essence of this approach and the new economic environment it reflects.

"Instead of relying on companies that employ 30,000 people, we need to have 1,000 new businesses that can employ 30 people each," said Johnson, who hopes to establish a center of her own to support small or fledgling businesses with the help of The Next Step.

Founded in May, 1992 as a nonprofit organization, The Next Step links budding entrepreneurs with experienced mentors who share advice and skills in classroom settings and on a one-to-one basis, said executive director Beverly Thomas.

"We take people who are investigating the idea of opening a business, see how much commitment they have and then help them develop their idea," Thomas said. "Starting a business is hard work and you have to have the hunger. But my philosophy is that people shouldn't work for someone else if they have the ability and courage to go out on their own."

Among the businesses that The Next Step's clients hope to establish are computer consulting, cellular phone sales, food services and office support work.

A more ambitious idea is Johnson's proposed Center for Business Development, which would provide a common location for small businesses to share office space, equipment, clerical staff and receive assistance from specialists.

Johnson would like to set up her "business incubator" in the Crenshaw or Baldwin Hills areas for people "who want to dip their toe in the entrepreneurial waters without putting out several thousand dollars" for computers, telephones or fax machines.

Johnson said Thomas and the staff at The Next Step have been an invaluable source of information and support as she lays the foundation for her venture. "There's a lot of frustration, anger and tears involved in setting up a business," Johnson said. "(Thomas) was very willing to listen to me gripe and cry and she always knows the right person to call to get something done in this city."

Training sessions are offered in accounting, marketing, planning and other topics. Clients pay $25 for each two-hour session, in addition to a processing fee.

The organization also offers training in math and English and hopes to add mentors fluent in Spanish and Korean, Thomas said.

The Next Step is at 4752 W. Washington Blvd. Information: (213) 931-8633.

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