WCC more than doubles "entrepreneurs-in-residence" offering free mentorship to business owners

In response to the increased needs of a growing number of small business owners, Washtenaw Community College (WCC) is expanding its Entrepreneurs-In-Residence (EIR) program. Five new entrepreneurs-in-residence will be joining WCC's existing team of four mentors.

Since 2019, the EIR program has been offering free mentoring to new and prospective business owners through WCC’s Entrepreneurship Center. In the program’s first two years, 287 EIR appointments were booked. Of those meetings, 138 were conducted virtually during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

"During that time there were really a lot of business grants that were flying around fast and furious, and people needed direction and guidance, so we started doing everything we could to get information to our clients," says Entrepreneurship Center Director Kristin Gapske. "We've always prided ourselves for being a center for information that helps people navigate the local entrepreneurial ecosystem, so we're always trying to do all that we can."

Gapske has always wanted to build on the success of the EIR program's first years. Thanks in part to a United Way of Washtenaw County Power of the Purse grant awarded in June, that vision is taking form. The five new experts being brought on board, and their specialties, are: Brynn Cooksey (HVAC/R business planning), Millie Chu (determining for-profit versus nonprofit business formation, starting or scaling a social enterprise, and sustainability for social impact businesses), Dr. Eric Fretz (veteran entrepreneurship, creativity/ideation, and entrepreneurship), Leslie Sobel (grant writing), and Autumn Kyles (funding readiness, food business building, and strategic business planning).

Gapske points to Kyles as an example of the depth of knowledge and experience that all the EIRs have. Kyles, the owner of Detroit Dough (which serves up Detroit’s first safe-to-eat cookie dough), has been featured in more than 15 local and national publications and won the Samuel Adams Brewing the American Dream and Detroit Demo Day business pitch competitions. 

Gapske adds that the fact that Kyle started a food company, in particular, is a boon. The majority of people who seek services from the Entrepreneurship Center are pursuing food-related businesses. 

"Autumn is known for winning large amounts of grant money and teaching people how to be successful in pitching their new businesses," Gapske says. "To have someone like her who started a successful food business, and attracted a lot of attention doing so, will be really impactful for many of our clients."

Jaishree Drepaul-Bruder is a freelance writer and editor currently based in Ann Arbor. She can be reached at jaishreeedit@gmail.com.

Photo courtesy of WCC.