CHESTER – Leaning on the wisdom of Madam C.J. Walker, the Entrepreneur Innovation Center opened for business Thursday at the Booker T. Washington Community Center.
In spearheading the concept for the center, Marrea Walker-Smith was motivated by the famous Walker quote: “Don’t sit down and wait for the opportunities to come. Get up and make them.”
“This Entrepreneur Innovation Center has the potential to create more Madam C.J. Walkers in other areas of business,” Walker-Smith said.
Washington Community Center, one of the Chester Housing Authority campuses, at Seventh and Central avenues.
It features spaces for STEM careers, entrepreneurship, music production, apparel design, podcasting and television/radio production with workshops in all of these. Registration for classes will begin next month at the Chester Housing Authority website and classes will begin in August.
Steven Fischer, executive director of the Chester Housing Authority, said the space is for all the residents of Chester to brainstorm and think about how to make a product, business or service while encouraging teamwork and collaboration.
“(It takes) an underutilized space and create learning opportunities that will reduce barriers to employment and financial independence,” he said.
The McLean Contributionship in Wayne awarded the authority a grant to purchase equipment to start the center.
ack Shaw is a junior at the Devon Preparatory School who served as an intern at the authority last summer and was part of the team helping to design the EIC.
“The goal is to provide individuals who would otherwise not have access or the financial resources to acquire these skills with the ability to learn, start a career or launch a business,” he said.
Walker-Smith — a member of the Devon Preparatory School faculty, where she teaches business, economics, entrepreneurship, marketing, and human rights and social justice courses, according to the school’s website — explained that it was important in the center’s design to make certain technology was at the forefront.
“Today, you must have a firm understanding of technology to build a business and a brand,” she said, as is evident in the spaces in the center, such as the all-purpose room.
“This all-purpose room will provide participants with the opportunity to not only create a prototype but they will have the opportunity through photography and graphics to create a marketing document for their prototype,” Walker-Smith said.
A technology and digital design studio will provide participants with basic skills in Microsoft, Office, website design, fliers and invitations using software applications such as Wix and Canva.
A podcast studio allows students to learn how to launch, market and earn revenue from their podcast.
An apparel design suite will show students how to build an apparel business and reach a global market through ecommerce models.
The center also features a finance lab.
“We will have the only finance lab in Delaware County that offers the opportunity for students and adults to learn personal finance, credit and budgeting,” Walker-Smith said, adding that participants will learn stock terminology, how to read stock charts and how to purchase stocks.
She said the center will have an LED ticker for the stock market installed at a later date.
“As a former resident of public housing, I know how valuable these programs are in the community. I grew up on welfare and food stamps so finance and stocks were never part of the discussions in our home,” Walker-Smith said. “But times have changed, and opportunity and quality of life is different in Chester Housing Authority.”
Of the Entrepreneur Innovation Center, she added, it “gives our residents the opportunity to compete and gain much-needed skills to become financially independent and end generations of poverty.”
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