Access to entrepreneurship education should be a fundamental human right, said Michele Markey, Kauffman FastTrac spokesperson.
A program of the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, FastTrac has equipped more than 350,000 aspiring entrepreneurs with business skills they need during its nearly 25 years of service, Markey said. To further expand its reach, the program launched a free, online self-paced class earlier this month.
The online course is designed to provide information, tips, exercises, tools and a framework for aspiring ideas with a business idea. The new FastTrac offering is expected to impact several thousand aspiring entrepreneurs this year, she said.
“I think that extending this program digitally is in line with what I believe Mr. Kauffman would have stood for,” Markey said. “Now, these folks will have access to learning material that can be delivered to people in the comfort of their own homes. We know that there’s a large population of people that either choose to learn that way or for a variety of reasons their circumstances mandate that they need to do it that way.”
In February, the Kauffman foundation began the Zero Barriers to Startup initiative, which aims to develop solutions that empower more entrepreneurs to pursue their ambitions. FastTrac’s rebrand fits nicely with the foundation’s larger mission, Markey said.
In addition to removing physical barriers for FastTrac — which previously was only offered at select times and locations — the foundation also removed the program’s financial barrier.
“We want to remove as many barriers to entrepreneurship as possible, so we decided to make the online FastTrac content openly accessible,” Markey said. “By effectively removing the financial barrier, now for those people who for, whatever reason, may not be able to afford to invest in that kind of opportunity for themselves, we have taken that worry away from them.”
Since the program’s launch in 1993, FastTrac has offered such programs as NewVenture, TechVenture and Planning the Entrepreneurial Venture, Markey said. The new, online offering serves as a combination of the three programs, she said.
“Going digital allows us to keep our content current, relevant and fresh on a real-time basis,” Markey said. “We were always constantly updating hard copy books on a two-year revision cycle, which was a challenge.”
For entrepreneurs who still wish for an in-person experience, FastTrac will continue to offer programs, like NewVenture, via affiliates. By the end of 2017, the program estimates to reach about 150 affiliate partners across the nation, Markey said.
“There is still a huge population of people that say, ‘Hey, if I have the chance to meet with a group of my peers, have access to facilitators who are very knowledgeable and who bring in subject-matter experts and guest speakers, and make connections within my entrepreneurial community, I’m all over that,’” she said. “We want people to have options.”
To expand the online program, FastTrac plans to tap the growing 1 Million Cups network, an entrepreneurship events series with locations in more than 140 cities. The forum recently set the ambitious goal to expand to 500 communities by the end of 2018. 1 Million Cups attendees — many of which are aspiring entrepreneurs — are the perfect target market for FastTrac’s online program, Markey said.
But the program’s outreach efforts won’t stop there, she said.
“I believe we are going to see more and more institutions wanting to include FastTrac as part of their programming,” Markey said. “The content is top-notch and hits a real need in the marketplace.
Markey — who has been with FastTrac for seven years — said that expanding the program digitally has been a “labor of love” for her.
“I have seen the program go through an evolution over the past many years,” she said. “What we are embarking on here, I feel is not only the right thing to do as a foundation, but we are also fundamentally extending the content in a way that will have a far-reaching impact years to come. For that, I am grateful.”
To view coming FastTrac courses or to enroll in the online-course now, click here.