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Saint Mary’s program promotes entrepreneurship in South Bend

| Tuesday, December 6, 2016

This year marks the fifth year of the SPARK program, which is put on by the Saint Mary’s College Women’s Entrepreneurship Initiative (WEI) through the Center for Women’s Intercultural Leadership. The SPARK program is a training program in entrepreneurship for female entrepreneurs in the South Bend area with high potential but without the resources to start up their own business.

“Deciding to take on your dream and create a business from your own vision is takes a lot of courage and can can be terrifying without the right support,” senior Emerald Blankenship  said. “SPARK is the first step in this process for a class of inspiring women each year.”

Blankenship is an intern for the SPARK program, and first became involved last fall.

I want to go into philanthropy, so volunteering for a nonprofit designed to help women launch startup businesses was right up my alley,” Blankenship said. “I did not know it would end up being one of the most influential experiences of my college career.”

As an intern, Blankenship said she has a variety of responsibilities.

“Since I study marketing as one of my concentrations, I get to help with media plans, market research and just answering general questions about the business process,” Blankenship said. “I also facilitate one or two classes depending on where there is a need.”

Last year, Blankenship taught classes titled “Sales Forecasting and Making Sales” and “Social Media and Marketing Plan.” This year, she taught a class about “defining your target market,” Blankenship said.

“With the SPARK program, you basically get a crash course in business,” Blankenship said. “The women who participate, SPARKlers, go through an 11-week session that touches on everything I’ve taken four years to learn.”

SPARK — which stands for “screening,” “pre-accelerated program,” and “re-kindling the flame” — accepts candidates who are ready to start their own businesses. Then, the women participate in the course, and learn how to take their business ideas and turn them into a business.

“SPARK is important because it helps create a community of female entrepreneurs,” Blankenship said. “There is a special, unexplainable sisterhood which develops between the SPARKlers throughout the course. They become intertwined and committed to helping one another. … We have the capacity to accept 28 women per session, and the alumnae of the program provide consistent support and insight to new participants each year.”

This growth that the program has seen is expected to continue into the future, Blankenship said.

“As we tally more and more successful launches from graduates of the SPARK program, the potential to grow the program and educate more women is something I see on the horizon,” Blankenship said. “Greater success typically will signal greater support from our community, which is exactly what this program needs.”

Blankenship sees this connection between graduates of the program as representative of the sisterhood many experience at Saint Mary’s.

“The SPARK sisterhood is a lot like the Saint Mary’s sisterhood,” Blankenship said. “We are given opportunities to put ourselves out there, and are often, if not always, met with a supportive community who genuinely wants us to succeed. SPARKlers feel like they are part of something bigger than themselves. They are paving the way for women entrepreneurs in this community and impacting their own lives in big ways.”

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About Jordan Cockrum

Jordan Cockrum is a senior at Saint Mary's studying Communications and Humanistic Studies. She currently serves as Saint Mary's Editor.

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