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Setting Entrepreneurs Up for Success in Southwest New Mexico

The Southwest New Mexico Council of Governments helps local entrepreneurs learn the ropes via innovative CO.STARTERS program.

By Livability on November 18, 2022

CO.STARTER at work
Courtesy of Southwest New Mexico Council of Governments

When the founder of CO.STARTERS visited the area to speak about his national entrepreneur training program, leaders at the Southwest New Mexico Council of Governments realized this was just the boost their small businesses needed. 

“Statistics show that new start-up businesses have an 80% failure rate if they don’t start in some kind of an incubation-type scenario,” says Emily Gojkovich, deputy director of SWNMCOG, which boosts economic development and quality of life in Catron, Grant, Hidalgo and Luna counties in New Mexico

“This was a perfect opportunity for our communities because we don’t technically have to build a brick-and-mortar building, which really none of my communities are big enough to support on a long-term basis,” she adds. 

The new CO.STARTERS program, which features 10 weeks of collaborative peer sessions to help aspiring entrepreneurs turn their dreams into sustainable money-making ventures, was just taking shape with door-to-door invitations when the pandemic hit. 

That didn’t stop organizers from kicking it off virtually in Grant County in the summer of 2020 and, thanks to CARES Act funding, go on to expand it in the other SWNMCOG counties. In-person sessions are now offered several times a year. 

New Mexico
Southwest New Mexico Council of Governments

Participants especially appreciate the been-there-done-that stories from guest mentors who “tell the good, the bad and the ugly about owning a business,” says Gojkovich. “And then, when you throw a wrench into the works, like COVID, it can be very scary because your whole heart and soul is on the line. They get to hear other speakers talk about how they did overcome COVID and that it is not impossible.” 

The two-year-old program has already paid off. Of the 90 CO. STARTERS graduates so far, more than half have opened new businesses, and others are still interested in doing so, a success rate highlighted in a national CO.STARTERS case study. 

One soap-maker who’d previously worked out of her home recently held her grand opening in a storefront in downtown Silver City. 

More services are in the works. A new software management system will soon pair struggling small-business owners with advisors who can steer them in the right direction. And the first CO.STARTERS meetup recently gave entrepreneurs a chance to mingle with suppliers, bookkeepers and other service providers. 

The benefits, however, aren’t limited to business owners. 

“I work with some communities that have 150 people in them. Smokestack chasing is not a reality for them,” Gojkovich says. “CO. STARTERS is something that rises all boats because we’re able to diversify our economy and bring out some of those products that can be produced in rural communities and become very successful in creating jobs. 

“It’s really about building this strong, sustainable entrepreneur ecosystem and creating a business-friendly environment,” she continues. “It’s not such a heavy lift for one person, but it’s a lift for all organizations that do economic development to help one another.” 

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