New WCC entrepreneurship program offers one-on-one guidance with local business experts

Starting in September, Washtenaw Community College’s Entrepreneurial Center (EC) will provide individualized consulting for entrepreneurs through its new Entrepreneurs-in-Residence (EIR) program.


For nearly five years EC has been a first stop for many local entrepreneurs. The center, which is open to the college’s students and faculty as well as the general public, has upwards of 200 intakes a year.


"We have seen people ages 16 to 80 years old, people in the dream stage, the pre-idea stage, and the startup stage. We see people whether they have no business experience or have been in business for a decade," says EC director Kristin Gapske. "You come in, tell us where you’re at and what challenges you have, and we’ll direct you to resources specific to your needs."


Gapske says the new EIR program builds on the work EC has been doing and will allow anyone who walks through the center's doors to get deeper and more personalized attention.


The program, which is funded by a private grant, will allow EC staff to triage people and assign them to one of four EIRs. Each mentor is a current or former local business owner, boasting a specific area of expertise.


The four EIRs are: Danielle Milner, partner in Ypsilanti-based branding firm Do:Better, who will specialize in marketing; Cheranissa Roach, business consultant at the Ann Arbor Center for Independent Living, who will focus on customer discovery and pre-business plan writing; Ann Arbor serial entrepreneur Al Newman, who will specialize in business coaching, idea validation, and networking; and Sandra Xenakis, founder of Ann Arbor-based business consultancy Art Meets Business, who will focus on coaching for creatives.


"Someone might walk in and be gearing toward writing a business plan and they can get help taking the first steps from us and get some of the tools they can use to get that done," says Gapske. "But EIR helps us take that entrepreneur one step further with deeper one-on-one consulting. We can send them to the appropriate EIR to sit down and get help to fill in gaps in specific areas of their business plan."


She adds that anyone interested in meeting with an EIR must go through the EC’s regular intake process first so that the staff can ensure that they are directed to the right expert at the right time.


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

Cheranissa Roach photo by Ronsher Brooks. Al Newman photo by Evans Koukios.

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