Everyone’s An (Early Stage) Entrepreneur

By Erin McGowan, Associate Director, Wharton Small Business Development Center

I meet a lot of people in my daily life.  When new acquaintances discover that I work at the Wharton Small Business Development Center (SBDC), their first question is always “What do you think of my idea?” Their next question is “How can I take advantage of the Wharton SBDC’s services to start or grow my business?” For the early stage entrepreneur with a new idea, I tell them to take First Step. 

First Step is the introductory workshop for the Business Building program at Wharton SBDC.  Business Building is an integrated program of educational workshops and individual and group consulting for the very early stage entrepreneur. This workshop, held two evenings a month, draws almost 500 aspiring entrepreneurs from the Philadelphia area every year. A key part of the First Step program (and the Wharton SBDC program in general) is to connect entrepreneurs with each other.  Beginning in First Step, these entrepreneurs develop relationships, learn from each other, and evaluate and give feedback on each other’s ideas. 

The First Step attracts highly diverse individuals from a range of backgrounds – technologists, teachers, artists and craftspeople, and health professionals, among others.  Many of the attendees are working full time; some are unemployed, looking to improve their situation.  Some are innovating brand new problem-solving ideas, bringing cool new products to market and hoping to become “the next big thing.” Others plan to enrich their communities by launching social enterprises, restaurants, cafes and other neighborhood businesses.  During the workshop, a team of experienced consultants coach small groups of these entrepreneurs.  We help these entrepreneurs 1) develop a short list of effective next steps toward their business goals and 2) define and refine their business vision. Many workshop participants go on to write business plans and launch their businesses. Others realize that their business idea is not feasible, but the experience and knowledge have primed them to pursue the right idea at a future time.

First Step is offered twice monthly at the Wharton School.  More information can be found here.  


McGowenErinBio: Erin McGowan, Associate Director, joined the Wharton Small Business Development Center (SBDC) in 2007. Erin supports entrepreneurs and small business owners in the Wharton SBDC Business Building program.  Prior to the Wharton SBDC, Erin was at a New York City-based non-profit, Housing Works, and in Corporate Services at the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco. Erin has a Master’s Degree in in Nonprofit Leadership from the University of Pennsylvania.