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Class teaches today’s and tomorrow’s entrepreneurs

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By MIKE SANDROLINI

This past October, the Economic Growth Initiative (EGI)—a five-point plan for economic development in the village introduced last year— began a technological business district in Maywood.

The Technology Business District, in partnership with the Global Business Center, 840 S. 17th Ave., and Microsoft, offered classes in 3-D printing and certification, as well as app development and coding, which began in October. Students who signed up for these classes—they range in ages from teen-agers to 20s and 30s, and even into their 50s and 60s—finished the first round of classes in late December.

Students in the 3-D printing classes will be completing the second round of classes in February or March. Once completed, they’ll be certified in 3-D printing, which could open the door to employment opportunities with an annual starting salary of anywhere between $45,000 and $75,000.

In a West Suburban Journal story about the technological business district published in October, Bridgette Chatman-Lewis, a Maywood native who is with Oakbrook Terrace/Washington D.C.-based Chatman Lewis Consulting—which is implementing EGI in the village—explained that getting trained in 3-D printing “is a big deal.”

“For any type of prototype that’s made now, you don’t have to send it away or go to China or try to get the actual metal representation,” she said. “You can actually print out the representation in a matter of hours as opposed to a matter of months.”

Students in app development and coding, a class in partnership with Microsoft, completed the Microsoft version of this class in December. Students will take what they learned in that class to actually develop live apps—along with teaching them how to code—in a second round of classes that will be completed in May. Students also will be receiving a certification in apps and coding. The classes for 3-D printing and apps and coding are held on Saturdays (with some Friday classes) at the Global Business Center.

“Currently there’s over 30,000 jobs that they say cannot be filled, and no one has the technology skill-set,” Chatman-Lewis noted. “What we’re doing with the technology district through EGI is we’re giving them the skill-set with 3D printing and app coding. They’re a very high level skill-set.”

ENTREPRENEURSHIP CLASS

Another exciting class at the Global Business Center is the entrepreneurship class, which Chatman-Lewis teaches herself. The class was introduced in October, but got under way in November. It will resume in February, continue through March and April, and conclude with a graduation in May. Chatman-Lewis describes the class as a “mini MBA.”

“We start off introducing students to what a small business actually is, what an entrepreneur actually is,” she said.

“They learn finance, accounting, management, organization. They understand how to write a complete business plan. We go through numerous case studies in business.”

As far as the age range of students in the class, Chatman-Lewis said they are “20-something, 30-something but we do have some students that are 50 and 60 years old.”

She added, “What comes out of these students is nothing short of amazing,” she said. “They’re so bright and so innovative. They’re on time, they hang on every word and they hardly ever take breaks. That’s how engaged they are. And that’s very encouraging.”

Steve and Shirley Willis are already established entrepreneurs who own a successful business, but they make the trip to Maywood from the Schaumburg area to partake in the class. Shirley said she and Steve heard Chatman-Lewis on a local radio program.

“There’s so many facets to owning your own business,” Shirley said. “With this program that she has, it gives you everything you need to do for a start-up company. So that right there was fascinating and intriguing to me to be able to have all those things and get all this information. It’s been wonderful. I was interested in pursuing my dream and my passion for business venture,” Steve said. “When I met her (Bridgette) it was a perfect fit (for us). I was talking about what I wanted to do and we sat down and discussed it.”

“The more we got into conversation,” Chatman-Lewis said, “he made me aware of a product he had developed which is absolutely amazing, and how he wants to take it to the next level. I helped with his business plan, and I did take him on as a client (at Chatman Lewis Consulting). But I encouraged him to attend an entrepreneurship class. He did and he was absolutely blown away by it. He had his wife joined and she, too, was very enthusiastic.”

Stephanie Torres of Westchester has been taking the entrepreneurship class along with her fiancé, Timothy Lee.

“It’s been wonderful,” Torres said.

“I work fulltime so coming in on Saturdays is really great. We have two different ideas (to start a business). We have some great ideas that we’ve kind of thrown off each other, but we’re learning how to implement those. That’s the goal.” Torres and Lee are actually taking all three classes—the entrepreneurial class, the 3-D printing and the apps and coding class. While it makes for a busy Saturday, she said “it’s been awesome. I’ve learned so many different things and I’ve grown as far as knowing how to implement things and how to take my ideas, get them out of my brain and on paper,” she said.

Delonte Robinson, a 20-year-old Maywood resident, also has a lot on his plate. He works two jobs, and like Torres and Lee, is involved in all three classes. “It’s been a real eye-opener,” he said. “I’m learning a lot of things about what’s going on in the world; things that are coming in the future. It’s really been a great experience. I’m a jack of all trades. I’m just trying to find something that I’m going to master.”

Students taking one class, or all three, do pay a very low fee for the classes, but Chatman-Lewis set it up that way so students “have a little bit of skin in the game.”

“The value of these classes is anywhere from $500 to $3,500,” she said. “I wanted (them to have) accountability and (that) they would show up. If you pay a little bit for something, you’ve got some vested interest. If everything is always free, you tend to take it for granted.”

DIGITAL LITERACY TRAINING FOR SENIORS

The Technology Business District also offers senior citizens the opportunity to learn about the internet and Microsoft programs such as Office and Excel. Seniors can sign up for training sessions that go once a week for six weeks at $15 per session, with the sessions being held at the Global Business Center. These training sessions also are available to non-seniors at $20 per session.

“We go over Microsoft Office, Excel, the Internet—what is the Internet?—and PowerPoint, and we do a presentation for them on how to merge it all together,” Chatman-Lewis said.

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