On a normal day, you can find Nina Childers managing a total of 50 employees and running the 4,000-square-foot Bella Salon & Spa in Chester Springs, Pennsylvania, along with a slightly smaller second location, Charlotte Thomas Salon in nearby Phoenixville. But for 12 weeks in 2021, Childers was a student.
The Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Business Program accepted Childers’s application, including her in an elite group of business owners granted admission to the program at no charge. The program’s mission is to “help entrepreneurs create jobs and economic opportunity by providing access to education, capital, and support services,” according to the Goldman Sachs website.
MBA Quick, Not Lite
“It was like an accelerated MBA program,” Childers reports. “I had assignments to do for homework and an advisor checking in with me. There were 28 owners in my class, and we all graduated.”
Topics ranged from finances and legalities to marketing and leadership principles.
“We touched on every aspect of small business ownership,” Childers says. “Through the program, you’re ultimately creating a growth plan that you can use to make projections and pitch to investors.”
To qualify to enroll, owners must have been in business for a minimum of two years, with revenues topping $75,000 in the most recent fiscal year. They must have at least one employee other than themselves. In addition to submitting a written application, each applicant must go through an interview process.
When they accept you, they determine when and where you will take the course. Goldman Sachs partners with community colleges, business schools, nonprofits, and community development financial institutions to bring the program to locations throughout the country.
While established experts did the teaching and guiding, Childers says it was her peers in class with her, sharing their business ideas and challenges, that meant the most to her. Some of the other participants were in the health and wellness space, too, although their businesses were all very different.
“The biggest thing I got out of this was having the opportunity to work with a group of like-minded business owners in all different industries,” Childers notes. “When it comes down to it, our problems are similar; only the functions behind the scenes are different. Everyone has marketing needs, hiring needs, and being in a class of 20 people makes you feel that you’re not on your own.”
Through Zooms and in-person lunches, Childers stays in touch with some of the other students. Goldman Sachs holds a monthly zoom that connects her with a broader range than just the 20 owners who attended her session.
“You get to know a lot of people,” she says. “You can build great relationships and have a lot of resources.”
Goldman Sachs also brings former participants together for additional education. The three-day Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses 2022 Summit in Washington, DC, featured a long roster of celebrated speakers, including U.S. senators, athletes, Drybar founder Alli Webb, George W. Bush, and Gwyneth Paltrow. Not only was admission free to the program alumni, but Goldman Sachs subsidized hotel rooms and covered all food expenses.
Childers says the program doesn’t seem to be widely known; she learned about the opportunity from a massage therapist friend who also was accepted. At a time when she’s considering opening additional locations and adding permanent cosmetics to the service menu, Childers gained a lot from studying, collaborating, and chatting. While her salon team had to get along without her day-to-day presence for three months, she feels that it was valuable to model continuous growth, even for an owner.
“My goal with my company is to grow it big but make it feel small,” Childers says. “We’re in business because of our people. I absolutely would recommend this program for salon owners and for any business owner.”
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