Students walking

Unable to find a job, Jennifer Cushenberry asked herself what natural skills she had that could help make ends meet. That self-analysis led her to start To‘Mara Photography in July.

As a new business owner, Cushenberry, 29, seized the opportunity to attend the PopUp Business School at John H.  Boner Neighborhood Centers to learn skills that will make her business successful.

“This will help me to develop skills in areas that I may have been lacking so that when I open up my studio I will be prepared,” Cushenberry said.  

The PopUp Business School, a free program founded in the United Kingdom in 2012, helps potential entrepreneurs start their business during the two-week program. During the two weeks, participants learn sales and marketing skills, how to use social media to promote and sell their products or services, receive tax and legal help and information on pricing and creative funding sources.

Personal trainer Suzette Sweatt, 51, and her husband, Daniel, 51, opened SweattBoxx Wellness Center five years ago. Sweatt gained useful information on how to better promote classes online. 

“We have a website, and it’s primarily about personal training, so our Kangoo Jumps class got lost in the process because you have to scroll to the very bottom to see where it’s at,” Sweatt said. “And so we’re going to create a free Weebly website and promote it there.” 

This is the first time the free school has come to Indianapolis. Teresa Bennett, assistant vice chancellor of IUPUI Office of Community Engagement, learned about a 10-day business course while watching PBS NewsHour in March. Thinking the school could benefit the Indianapolis community, Bennett met with Stephen Thrash, director of SOURCE River West Entrepreneurship Center, to propose bringing the free business school here.

“We [at IUPUI] know we’re a big presence in the community, and with that comes a responsibility to be impactful, sensitive to, and involved in our neighborhoods and our business community in a really meaningful way,” Bennett said.

With Thrash on board, Bennett contacted the PopUp Business School. Four months later, staff flew in from the U.K. to look around and gauge interest from the public. Three months after that, SOURCE had to close registration a week early because 236 people signed up for the Oct. 21 to Nov. 1 event, but the John H. Boner Neighborhood Centers facility can only hold 200. 

“People heard about it and started calling even before they had the fliers printed, so we have — I guess you’d call it a pent-up demand,” Thrash said. SOURCE allowed overflow assuming some people would opt out. “Because it’s a free program, a lot of times you get some of that.”

The first week of classes covered topics such as how to start a business for free, how to find customers online and how to accept payments online, but Bennett, Sweatt and Cushenberry agreed that flat-out asking customers for the sale was the most important thing they’d learned. 

“[People] say a lot of words, but at the end did they really ask you to buy their product?” Bennett asked. 

Even if they turn you down, use that to your advantage. 

“I’m just practicing my ask for the next person,” Cushenberry said.

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