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WESST builds course for women in business

Not everyone has the resources to go to college for an MBA, but anyone with an internet connection and some self-discipline can learn business basics through the DreamBuilder program offered by the nonprofit small-business development and training organization WESST.

DreamBuilder targets women who want to start their own businesses or need additional support to increase profitability. It’s one of a growing number of massive open online courses (MOOCs) that offer busy people a way to explore subjects that interest them – and often to earn credit for their efforts.

The intensive eight-week program combines interactive online modules and classroom workshops every two weeks so women can “learn at their own pace and also connect with other entrepreneurs in the classroom sessions,” said Julianna Silva, managing director of Albuquerque’s WESST Enterprise Center. “This encourages attendees to maintain a reasonable pace and not drop the curriculum midstream.”

Sticking with the program is one weakness of MOOCs in general, but DreamBuilder attempts to overcome that. Besides offering classes in Spanish and English, the program incorporates in-house classroom sessions that allow learners to interact with instructors, guest speakers and one another and to review information specific to New Mexico businesses.

At the first session, participants receive log-in credentials and orientation to the cloud platform. Between classroom sessions, they complete required modules so everyone reaches learning milestones together. “The course is built as a lock-step curriculum; each module must be completed before the next module is unlocked,” Silva said. “Women love the flexibility to learn at their pace and also connect with other entrepreneurs in class sessions.”

Participants who don’t have a computer or internet access can use a laptop provided by WESST during classroom sessions and receive technical support from the WESST trainer. This face time makes DreamBuilder a bit of a hybrid MOOC, as most of these distance-learning classes – including from elite universities like Stanford, Princeton, Columbia and Duke – rely entirely on interactive videos and web-based user forums.

After completing the DreamBuilder course, which costs $39, graduates typically print a certificate that shows they’ve completed the course. And they are offered two hours of free individual consulting with WESST, a perk that normally costs $30, Silva said. “We often continue working one-on-one with clients, and some may participate in other programs we offer, like the microloan program or incubation program in Albuquerque.”

Graduates also leave the program with a first draft of a business plan that they create using business plan generator software that prompts them to apply course concepts to their own business or business idea and stores the answers in a business plan template.

To find out more about DreamBuilder, aspiring women entrepreneurs can contact their local WESST office or visit https://www.wesst.org/training/.

Finance New Mexico connects individuals and businesses with skills and funding resources for their business or idea. To learn more, go to www.FinanceNewMexico.org.

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