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Bringing a culture of entrepreneurship to Dixon

Business mentoring group pitches its services to the city

DIXON – Mayor Jim Burke says he wants to bring an entrepreneurial culture to the city.

Officials with a business mentoring program called Venture Advisors met with city officials and business leaders Wednesday at the invitation of Burke, who saw one of its presentations at a recent Rural Economic Development conference in Peoria.

Venture's program is credited with generating 44 new jobs in 2 years in Highland, a city of 9,900 just east of St. Louis, from businesses started through its mentoring program.

Lee Crockett, who gave Wednesday's presentation, said it's becoming harder and harder for communities to attract big business into their city. For example, Highland offered $2.5 million in incentives to lure a large company that would provide 50 jobs, but it lost out to a neighboring community that put up $3 million in incentives.

Had the effort succeeded, it would have cost Highland $50,000 per job. Going through Venture's program, which creates rather than attracts businesses, would have cost $795 per job, Crockett said.

"We feel breeding entrepreneurship needs to be a part of a successful economic development strategy," Crockett said. "Not all of it, but part of it."

Crockett shared success stories, including saving the city's old downtown movie theater and a filmmaking group.

The program also led to the creation of a cabinetry gallery that designs beds for a company owned by Home & Garden TV star Lonni Paul and former "90210" star Tiffani Thiessen.

If Dixon were to choose Venture, city leaders would meet with a facilitator to outline the city's goals.

"It's important that everyone is behind this," Crockett said.

All interested entrepreneurs would be invited to a roundtable discussion. From that, the more serious candidates attend a daylong business seminar to teach them how to jump-start a business and develop a business model.

"We're identifying who has the best business models at this point," Crockett said.

The program depends on mentors – volunteer lawyers, accountants and successful business owners throughout the community – who help entrepreneurs every step of the way, especially in guiding them through their business models.

The program can include an account for small loans, business incubators, high school programs, etc.

Dixon Main Street has discussed starting its own business incubator at its current office on Hennepin Avenue, after it moves to the second floor of the Fifth Third Bank building on Galena Avenue.

"It's really up to the city officials to determine what they want to put into it," Crockett said.

Only a third of Venture's entrepreneurs succeed, but that's a high success rate, said Joel Harris, another Venture consultant.

"Bottom line is job creation," Harris said. "These ideas are homegrown, and there's a chance they'll stick and grow into a prosperous company."

The mayor told those officials attending the presentation that he would send them a survey, and that he wants to gauge where others in the community stand on the idea.

About Venture Advisors

From its website:

Venture Advisors helps you solve the economic growth challenges facing your community, helps you capitalize on innovation, and helps you create new and permanent jobs. Venture Advisors helps you get the results you are looking for; cost-effective job creation.

Venture Advisors' programs are about startup companies in your community; identifying entrepreneurs and assisting them with local resources to help them start businesses or expand existing businesses.

Our value proposition is simple: Job creation at a fraction of the cost of traditional TIF's, guarantees, grants, and other incentive programs.

Go to to learn more.

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