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Washington CASH opens doors for entrepreneurs

Silverdale’s Alan Smith was never unemployed in the first 50 years of his life, but after being laid off for the second time in three years in June, he decided to trek a new course.

The Kitsap County Veterans Assistance Program recommended that Smith, who served eight years in the U.S. Navy, should start his own home repair business.

After completing Washington CASH’s eight-week program for how to start a business in December, Smith, 53, launched Mr. Honey Do Repair Services the next month.

He said the course packed a four-year college degree into an eight-week program.

“It’s a quick down and dirty discussion on how to start a business,” he said.

The Kitsap branch of Washington CASH, a Seattle-based nonprofit organization, has boomed in popularity during the past year with the recession, said Stuart Walton, who runs the Kitsap branch out of the United Way building in Bremerton.

In 2008, 34 people attended the eight-week sessions. In 2009, that figure expanded to 104.

It also hosts twice-monthly job advice programs, where mentors meet with groups of small-business owners to provide advice and talk about job-related issues.

“Starting a business is no different from becoming a professional athlete, it takes 10,000 hours to really get up and know what you are doing,” Walton said.

Now that he has launched the business, Smith is thinking about asking Washington CASH for a loan. To obtain a loan, applicants must complete the eight-week program and make a presentation to a group of small-business owners, other participants and representatives from Washington CASH.

Small-business owners can receive an initial $1,000 loan from Washington CASH, followed by additional loans in three increments, worth $2,500, $3,500 and $5,000. The loans have a 7 percent interest rate.

Washington CASH has loaned more than $85,000 to small businesses in Kitsap over the past decade.

Kisha Baggs, 30, spends much of her time strolling around Silverdale, looking for unique photos for her annual Kitsap calendar and greeting cards business.

Baggs decided in 2005 to start her own home-based small business, Buddy-Girl Greetings.

But she had no sales experience, so she attended Washington CASH’s eight-week course in 2006. Despite being laid off from her job as a graphic designer, she said the lessons she learned with Washington CASH have kept her business afloat.

She still attends the twice-a-month job advice sessions.

“You have to work like a dog and when you have people giving you great feedback, you have hope,” she said.

To be eligible for Washington CASH’s loans, businesses must meet the organization’s definition of a micro-enterprise, which means a net worth of less than $35,000 and five or fewer employees. Walton estimates more than half of Kitsap County businesses are eligible for the program.

After working for a couple of years in the mortgage industry, Elizabeth Hunt, 25, took a pay cut to work a customer service job in Bremerton. She took the Washington CASH course in the fall, launching Living Touch Massage near her Keyport home.

“When you come out of school and are young, you want to do everything,” she said. “Stuart got the message across that the better your focus and the narrower your market, the more likely you will succeed.”

Carl Ekman, 60, spent 25 years working in the pharmaceutical industry. But after being laid off in April, he started his home-based business in East Bremerton, Vital Solutions of America, after attending the Washington CASH course.

The business was a whole new direction for Ekman, as it focused on emergency preparedness at home.

For Ekman, the market for his new business is more obvious than ever amid the situations in Haiti and the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

“The more people I talk to, the more I’ve found out how few people even have a 72-hour kit to survive,” he said.

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