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A Merchant, Student Exchange

October 8, 2004

After 32 years of running the Unity Barber Parlor on Hartford's Albany Avenue, owner James Gamble had his clipping, styling and people skills honed to perfection. But when it was time to upgrade and move into the computer side of business, he turned to some University of Hartford students for help.

Gamble joined the Micro Business Incubator Program, a collaboration of Upper Albany Main Street, the University of Hartford's Barney School of Business and the MetroHartford Alliance, last year. The program matches university students with Upper Albany merchants for individualized, on-site business assistance.

During his first year with the program, Gamble received assistance in organizing his customer and staff information on a computer, and he installed a new phone line for Internet access. On Thursday, he met Sean Regan, 22, who will work with Gamble this year. Regan, a senior from St. Charles, Ill., is in the University of Hartford's Principles of Entrepreneurship class.

With other students, business owners, program organizers and city officials such as Mayor Eddie A. Perez, at the Artists Collective, they helped celebrate the beginning of the Micro Business Incubator's third year.

"I'm getting ready to establish a web page, explore new software and keep track of my inventory by computer," Gamble said.

Gamble and Regan struck up an easy rapport, as they began planning their schedule and goals for the semester, and Gamble offered Regan free haircuts anytime - the perks of working at a barbershop.

Regan, a player on the University of Hartford's basketball team, who one day hopes to own his own business, said he was looking forward to learning more about what it takes to run a small business.

"This is perfect for me to get hands-on business experience," Regan said. He said he's enjoyed meeting and working with many neighborhood children through basketball clinics.

Thirty-two students will work with 26 small-business owners in the Upper Albany neighborhood this fall, in diverse businesses including a photography studio, a florist, grocery stores, and construction and electric supply stores.

"They will see how hard it is to run a small business, and at the same time, they will also be exposed to the inner city and its diverse culture," said David E. Desplaces, who is teaching the entrepreneurship class.

Cara Ashnault,21, a senior from Conway, N.H., said it was "total culture shock" for her when she first came to Upper Albany to work with Maurene "Peaches" DaCosta, at her Beauty Galore Hair Salon on Homestead Avenue.

But Ashnault said she found DaCosta to be so welcoming and working with everyone in the neighborhood to be so positive that she's back to the Micro Incubator program for a second year.

"It's been a great experience to see entrepreneurship on the avenue succeeding, and it's inspiring to see what a sense of community they have here," Ashnault said. She helped DaCosta learn basic computer skills such as organizing her address book with Excel and how to use Microsoft Word and PowerPoint. Next, they will work together on a needs assessment and develop a business plan for Beauty Galore.

DaCosta said having Ashnault there helped to lighten her workload, and, "It was a big plus to learn to use a computer to write letters, take inventory and to have information right at my fingertips."

Yvonne Price, president of Upper Albany Main Street, said the Micro Business Incubator Program has helped to attract about 35 new businesses to Upper Albany over the past three years. "It allows business owners to know they would get help opening a business on Albany Avenue that they wouldn't get elsewhere in the city," she said.

Support for the Micro Business Incubator Program comes from the University of Hartford, a city of Hartford community development block grant, Hartford Foundation for Public Giving, Travelers Foundation, Fleet Bank and St. Francis Hospital and Medical Center.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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