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iWOW seeking businesses that want to grow

The University of Georgia's Small Business Development Center is calling all fledgling companies that want to take their business to a higher level.

Applications are now being accepted for the Incubator Without Walls (iWOW) program, which kicks off Sept. 12 at the Greater Columbus Chamber of Commerce.

Six local companies already have submitted applications for the nearly nine-month program, which has only 10 spots available, said Lori Auten, regional SBDC director who oversees the Columbus office.

She expects the remaining positions in the iWOW program to go quickly, even if they aren't cheap. The price tag is $1,995.

"They get over 50 hours of classroom instruction and four hours a month with their mentors," Auten said of iWOW, which pairs the protege companies with top-level executives at major companies who act as mentors and advisers.

Skip and Kike Seda, who own A-1 Postage Meters and Shipping Systems in Columbus, were among the 10 business people who graduated last month from iWOW's inaugural class. They were teamed with Ryland Harralson, vice president of human resources at data- and credit-card processing firm TSYS.

"iWOW will have a positive impact on every part of our business," said Skip Seda. "But it will probably give us the most benefit in systems. We learned how to revamp all our systems. We have streamlined our processes and become much leaner due directly to our mentor and these classes."

The next iWOW class will graduate May 23, 2008. The program includes "HyperGrow Your Business," a book and workbook series on marketing that takes readers through what author Curt Clinkinbeard calls "the nine natural laws" of business.

The course also includes FastTrac GrowthVentures, a nationally recognized curriculum from the Kauffman Foundation of Kansas City. The instruction offers "practical, hands-on business development" tools to help businesses develop business plans and skills needed to grow successfully, FastTrac's Web site says.

Jim Bowie, executive director of the Columbus Regional Technology Incubator, also will work as an iWOW adviser and consultant.

The end results of iWOW are the prime reason anyone should consider taking part, Auten said.

"For businesses that are kind of at a point that they know they want to grow and they're not quite sure what the next step is — to really bump things up a level — then this really does provide the tools with the classes and the mentor," she said. "It helps them take that next step that just may be foreign to them as far as what to do — how to hire new people, when to hire new people, when to get financing — to really turn them into a growth company."

HOW TO iWOW

Applications are now being accepted for the next Incubator Without Walls (iWOW) program that begins Sept. 12 and runs through May 23. The application deadline is Monday.

Cost is $1,995. The classes will take place at the Greater Columbus Chamber of Commerce, 1200 6th Ave., and at the Cunningham Center at Columbus State University, 3100 Gentian Blvd.

For more information about iWOW and to download an application, visit www.georgiasbdc.org. You may also call Lori Auten at 706-569-2656 or Ron Hinze at the chamber at 706-327-1566, ext. 24.

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