Pamela Glover wants to start a business. The 31-year-old resident of Southeast Washington imagines buying apartment buildings in her neighborhood and opening day care centers in them.
It's the kind of service, she said, that would create jobs in the neighborhood and provide a much-needed service for residents entering the workforce: housing and child care in close proximity.
What Glover lacks is detailed knowledge of how to do it. She knows how she would set up the business's Web site and computer systems; she works now as a systems analyst with a Navy contractor. But Glover has no background in preparing a business plan, arranging financing or marketing.
She intends to fill those gaps in her knowledge by taking classes in entrepreneurship at Southeastern University, part of a new initiative at the school that aims to help fix the interlocking problems of poverty and unemployment in some of the District's most troubled neighborhoods.
"There are people who have entrepreneurship in their DNA but may not have the information they need to act on it," said Charlene Drew Jarvis, the president of Southeastern. "We see this as a way of lifting all boats. We see entrepreneurship as a way to strengthen entire communities."
Southeastern, which celebrated its 125th anniversary, launched the entrepreneurship program at a dinner Wednesday night. Southeastern is a private school that has long focused on teaching business and other skills to its 1,000 students, who are mostly black and District residents.
It is located in Southwest Washington. Its name comes not from its location within the city, but because it was founded by the Young Men's Christian Association in the 19th century to serve the southeastern United States.
The school has offered a series of short, free seminars this fall, and beginning in January will offer a variety of courses and certificates in different elements of entrepreneurship.
Other local schools, including George Mason University, the University of Maryland and Howard University, have programs focusing on entrepreneurship to varying degrees. Southeastern officials said its program is geared more toward the basics of launching a small business than the others. Rather than studying theories of how businesses grow or how to deal with venture capitalists, Southeastern students learn how to balance the books of a lawn-care business or how to recruit employees.
Southeastern officials said their students are overwhelmingly from the District and are trying to launch businesses in the city. The program will encourage business owners to return to the school for advice and additional courses to help them run their businesses.
The new entrepreneurship focus at Southeastern is an attempt to confront the city's poverty by helping the smallest businesses.
Jarvis, who once chaired the D.C. Council's economic development committee and has strong ties to many of the region's business leaders, has brought in business heavyweights as part of the effort. James V. Kimsey, one of the founders of America Online, addressed a group of students recently, and Joseph E. Robert, the billionaire real estate magnate who founded the J.E. Robert Cos., is scheduled to speak next month. Russell Simmons, the hip-hop entrepreneur, was the keynote speaker at Wednesday night's event.
Marie C. Johns, a former president of Verizon Washington, D.C. who chaired the Southeastern dinner launching the program last week, said changes in business strategies can benefit small firms. "Large companies have moved to more outsourcing, so there are more opportunities for entrepreneurs," she said.
Barbara B. Lang, president of the D.C. Chamber of Commerce and a Southeastern board member, said the program is sorely needed. At the chamber's Georgia Avenue Business Resource Center, the staff tries to help hundreds of people who dream of opening small stores or home-based businesses, but little idea of how to do it. The former director of the Georgia Avenue project, Telaekah Brooks, is the new executive director of Southeastern's Center for Entrepreneurship.
"People are just coming in unprepared," Lang said. "There are people who have very good ideas but don't know how to move forward."
Jarvis said Southeastern will carefully measure the success rate of student entrepreneurs.
It is unclear is whether the program, even if successful, could have any impact on unemployment in the District, which was 7.5 percent in August, compared with 3.2 percent in the Washington area as a whole.
"These kinds of efforts can be worthwhile on the margins, but there's not much evidence that they can have a real macro impact," said Harry J. Holzer, a public policy professor at Georgetown University and scholar at the Urban Institute who studies low-wage labor markets. "That's not to say that in individual cases, it can't make a big difference in peoples' lives."
For Glover, the aspiring entrepreneur, that may be the case. She's finishing a master's degree in information systems management at Southeastern and is eager to take classes that will give her the ability to strike out on her own.
"I guess I like the idea of building my own business and having control over what I do," she said. "I want my money to work for me."