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Entrepreneur and Pathways to Work participant Karen Koutsavlis sports her new business’s logo.




Learn more

If you are receiving unemployment benefits and would like more information on the Pathways to Work program, visit nhes.nh.gov/nhworking/pathwaytowork. 




NH hearts entrepreneurs
Pathways to Work program finds early success

02/27/14



 Last spring, Reinig Morris, then a digital marketer for News/Newspapers of New England, was called into his boss’ office and told his job position would be changing. 

“They were changing my job significantly,” he said. “There would be a lot more traveling and it would be based in all the company’s locations … so they gave me the option to opt out.”
The changes didn’t sit well with Morris, so he opted out, went on unemployment, and started job searching. 
While he was receiving unemployment benefits, he got a letter from New Hampshire Employment Security, an administrator of the state’s new Pathways to Work Program. 
“It said: ‘You’re likely to run out of unemployment benefits before you actually find a job. … I was kind of bummed by it actually,” Morris said. 
But the news wasn’t all bad. The letter asked Morris to consider joining the Pathways program. He was identified as a potential candidate for the program through his unemployment application. Using the program, Morris could continue to receive unemployment benefits while working full time to build his own startup called Platypost, which helps businesses develop social media applications for their websites. 
Morris decided to give it a try.
“Before, [Platypost] had about three to five clients on board,” he said. “It definitely wasn’t anywhere near where it is now. Now we’re at 20 accounts and we have three more in the pipeline to launch.”
Since late August, when the state’s Pathways to Work program got underway, more than 100 recently unemployed residents have submitted applications to receive help starting up their own businesses. Of that number, more than 55 startups have gotten underway. So far, startups have included projects in solar panel sales, interior design, photography, music education and corporate event planning. 
“We’ve had more interest than anticipated, which is good,” said Pam Szacik, director of the Employment Service Bureau, which helps run the program. 
 
Providing pathways 
“As far as my company is concerned, the Pathways has certainly accelerated our ability to be successful,” Morris said. 
The program provides financial support and access to the resources, information and training entrepreneurs need to get their businesses off the ground. Gov. Maggie Hassan signed the bill that created the program last July. It is run collaboratively by the New Hampshire Small Business Development Center and Employment Security, a federally funded state agency.
It boosts the state’s economy when skilled workers stay local, said Mary Collins, state director of  the SBDC. 
“The legislation is making an investment in our workforce. By providing them this time to get a business started, it would ensure we had viable small businesses in New Hampshire in the future,” she said. 
Each Pathways participant works with a business advisor through SBDC. Advisors teach people about running a business, and there’s a contractual agreement on the clients’ part to do the work. Even after clients’ unemployment runs out, they are welcome to come back to their advisors for guidance. 
For the average entrepreneur, getting a new business up and running can take a couple years, but because the Pathways program requires participants to dedicate 37.5 hours a week to their project, people tend to be more focused and are getting their startups underway faster, said Amy Rodman, business advisor and Pathway to Work coordinator.
“Writing a business plan is always a challenge,” Rodman said. “Understanding all the pieces involved is crucial … the financial aspects, managing aspects, marketing aspects that you might be uncomfortable with.”
Karen Koutsavlis had been thinking about starting her own mobile fitness business for a few years before she was laid off from her full-time job. The layoff left her at a crossroads. 
“I really wanted to follow my passions, my business, but I didn’t have the money,” she said. “But to apply for unemployment you have to look for work. … You have to get yourself out there, which takes up a lot of time.”
She said the program gave her the time she needed to build a strong foundation for her business New England 360 Fitness, which combines personal training and nutrition services. Koutsavlis gained a handful of clients after a few months working with SBDC business advisor Andrea O’Brien.
“Before I got laid off I wasn’t doing much as far as marketing, transactions and business,” Koutsavlis said. “So my plan was not to be doing this immediately whatsoever. I assumed it would take a lot longer to get a business growing … to have time to build the business, and its foundation, is key.”
 
Shifting careers
Some of the program’s biggest success stories are about people whose chosen professions are part of shrinking industries, Collins said. 
“They’ve been laid off the most in industries where jobs are going away. Most likely these changes are long term, and it will continue be very difficult to find a job,” she said. 
After the 2001 recession, the state lost 25,000 jobs in mining, construction and manufacturing. Since the last recession it has lost 10,000 more, said Annette Nielsen, an economist in the labor market unit of New Hampshire Employment Security. The numbers have to do with advances in technology, making production faster and more efficient, she said, so laid-off workers in these fields are being forced to look for jobs outside their expertise. 
 
Future funding?
The Pathway program was signed into law with no additional funding, so costs are absorbed by SBDC and Employment Security. In the beginning of 2014 the program began seeking private sector funding to pay needed additional Employment Security support and SBDC business advisors. In late January, Citizens Bank Foundation donated $20,000 to SBDC to help fund Pathways, and the program is looking for more donors. 
 
As seen in the February 27, 2014 issue of the Hippo.





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