The business incubator at Eastern Kentucky University isn’t just for entrepreneurs launching their own businesses from scratch.
It also serves those plugging into existing frameworks as franchisees.
Kim Gardner, of Berea, assumed the Class 101-Eastern Kentucky franchise in 2013. Her office for the past three years is located in EKU’s Business and Technology Center, convenient for her clients and to various forms of assistance available through the Center for Economic Development, Entrepreneurship and Technology (CEDET) and other University services and amenities, such as classroom space and high-speed internet.
A national corporation, Class 101 provides families with expert guidance in the college search, admissions and financial aid processes. Gardner and her fellow counselors help high school students identify their career goals and support them in the steps necessary to achieve them in the most cost-effective manner possible.
“I like that I’m doing something that makes a difference in the lives of students and their families,” Gardner said.
The job is a “perfect fit” for Gardner, who previously served as program director for the Appalachian College Association, working with faculty and students in 36 small liberal arts colleges in five states. She has also connected with students, parents and teachers through her work with the Berea College GEAR UP Partnership and the Center for Parent Leadership at the Prichard Committee.
“I’m a child of small business,” Gardner said. “My dad was an exterminator, and it was a family business. I learned how to type before I could write. I was doing invoices at age 6 and helping to answer the telephone.”
When her youngest child began to consider colleges, Gardner attended a Class 101 financial aid seminar. “My friend elbowed me and said you need to talk to them about working with them. I had lunch with (founder and President) Tom Pabin and started working with him on Saturdays to find out what college planning is and how helpful it was for families.”
Before she took ownership of the Eastern Kentucky franchise, Gardner served for 13 months as director of franchise development.
She also began meeting with Michael Rodriguez, former director of the Small Business Development Center at EKU. Rodriguez passed away in early 2014 but his legacy continues. “I would not be where I am today if not for Michael Rodriguez,” Gardner said. “The impact he had was amazing. He showed me the incubator space and negotiated an amazing price for me.
“I had never written a business plan,” she added. “Michael gave me tips and helped me set my financial goals and five-year projections. He talked me through pricing and marketing strategies, the foundational elements of running a small business.”
Besides the office space, EKU also provides classroom space for Gardner to conduct her ACT prep classes, not just on the Richmond campus but also at the University’s regional campuses in Danville and Somerset. “The University has been wonderful to work with,” she said. “I’m very appreciative for the help and encouragement everyone has given me.”
As something of a “personal guidance counselor,” Gardner works with 40 students, typically high school juniors and seniors, and their families each year.
“Because I came from higher education, I know the (college) freshman year is critical,” she said, “so I stay in contact with them through their first semester. I want students to become advocates for their own needs.”
CEDET Executive Director Dr. Tom Martin said Gardner’s “success and exponential growth is a testament to anyone who has thought about starting his or her own business, is hesitant to start, or thought that being an entrepreneur was too tall a hill to climb. Kim would tell you that the work is hard, but the personal satisfaction of doing what you love, plus being able to help so many students achieve their dreams, is worth the effort.”
For more information about all the services available to small businesses and entrepreneurs at EKU, visit cedet.eku.edu.