BY WILLIAM F. WEST
Rocky Mount Telegram
Wednesday, June 12, 2019
Teresa Honeycutt wanted to learn about a free online program to help people start their own businesses, so she went to the launching of a collaboration between N.C. Wesleyan College and the foundation of a nationally known philanthropist.
Honeycutt, 56, of Rocky Mount and an N.C. Wesleyan student, on Tuesday morning heard Brian Hamilton speak about Starter U: How to Start, Run and Grow a Business.
Starter U is a 10-hour, self-paced video available via N.C. Wesleyan’s website and on computers at the Eastern North Carolina Center for Business and Entrepreneurship on the college’s campus.
Honeycutt said she thinks Hamilton will be good to follow on video because he can speak about coming from the bottom to the top. Honeycutt also said that is what people trying to start their own businesses need.
“We don’t need people that are already at the top,” Honeycutt said. “We need to know how you get to the top.”
Honeycutt said she set up a bakery in her home and began making and selling cakes — and she said she wants to expand this into her own business also offering crafts for sale.
Hamilton holds a master of business administration degree from Duke University and his foundation bears his name.
Hamilton grew up in a mill city in Connecticut and went on to co-found Sageworks, a financial technology company and the largest provider of computer software to American banks. Sageware was sold last year.
Hamilton also founded Inmates to Entrepreneurs, which helps people with criminal records start their own small businesses.
Hamilton told the folks gathered on Tuesday at N.C. Wesleyan about Sageworks struggling for years to meet payrolls but of his believing in the American dream as told in the stories of entrepreneurs he read about as a young man.
“I’m really passionate about helping North Carolina because of the way that I was welcomed here by everybody,” Hamilton told them.
As for the background of Starter U, Hamilton said he gathered approximately 25 entrepreneurs from all sorts of academic backgrounds and work experience.
He said he told them, “Look, we want to come up with a very concise course on starting a business. We want to cover everything, but it’s got to be plain language, it’s got to be direct, it’s got to be clear. And when I finish the course, I’ve got to know what to do.
“And we all argued about what should be in there,” he said. “And then we got an outline. We took notes and then we got ’em back in the room and said, ‘Here’s our outline.’ And we argued again.”
He said he and the rest of the entrepreneurs put together the course, which until Tuesday morning had been operating by word of mouth.
Rocky Mount Area Chamber of Commerce President and CEO David Farris spoke and noted Hamilton pointed out to him that at least 300 men from Edgecombe, Nash and Wilson counties are released from prison every year.
“If you take Sundays out, that’s one a day, just about,” Farris said of the number exiting the corrections system into the three counties. “And when they come out, they’ve got to have assistance.”
At the same time, he emphasized the commitments of Chinese-based Triangle Tire and New York-based Corning to build facilities in Edgecombe County and of CSX to build an intermodal facility across U.S. 301 from N.C. Wesleyan.
“We have over the next 12 to 18 months a critical need of 3,500 new people entering the workforce for our area,” Farris said. “That’s just the Twin Counties. And then this is really going to get serious.”
Farris turned and told Hamilton, “We’re not part of that crescent of Mecklenburg and the Triad and Triangle. We’re on the eastern side of it, but let me tell you, we’ve got a lot of people here who will be grateful — and their families — for the rest of their lives for what you’re bringing in.”
Gena Messer-Knode, who directs the Eastern North Carolina Center for Business and Entrepreneurship, told the Telegram she came up with the idea to make Starter U available in the area.
Messer-Knode said she saw Hamilton’s billboards along Interstate 40 and other major highways and decided to check Hamilton out via the Internet.
“And it just went from there,” she said.