Valley Works: College partnership produces entrepreneurs

September 9, 2013 10:16:33 PM PDT
It is a pathway that takes students from high school to community college to self-employment. A partnership between Reedley College and Fresno State is churning out young entrepreneurs.

Reedley is one of 10 community colleges partnering with the Lyles Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at Fresno State. Reedley Community College's program is so successful it has become a model for other community college programs.

What does that company called Sevenly have in common with a laser engraving business started by a disabled veteran, their owners got their start in a classroom at Reedley Community College.

"We want it to be weird if you haven't started a business," instructor Eric Nasalroad said.

Entrepreneurship is a subject instructor Eric Nasalroad is very passionate about.

"We want it to be so engrained in the culture that when a person starts a business it's acceptable not strange," Nasalroad said.

That attitude, that passion and a long time partnership with the Lyles Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship has made Reedley's one of the best community college program's in the country.

"We have had some students recently sell business in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, others students are millionaires because of what they have done," Nasalroad said.

The success has come in many ways, former student Aaron Chavez and his partner Dale Partridge co-founded the business Sevenly. Customers are able to purchase products and for every item sold seven dollars go to a charity. The business is so successful Aaron dropped out of college and now lives in Los Angeles.

Then there is disabled veteran Al Kroell and his wife Christy, 52 surgeries left Al unemployable.

"We had to make our own employment our own future," Kroell said.

Al, who lives in Squaw Valley, enrolled in the entrepreneurship program at Reedley College.

"Actually it's a requirement to start your own business and that's what we did," Kroell said.

The Kroell's received funding for their custom laser engraving business from the Fresno Economic Opportunities Commission's Community Development Financial Institution. The agency was so impressed with Al's story and achievements that they nominated him for a national award. The couple says they were surprised to learn they had won the Sargent Shriver Achievement Award.

"We were just both happy and blessed in many ways," Christy Kroell said.

The award specifically honors achievements by individuals who have changed their lives and achieved independence with the assistance of a community action agency. One of Al's plaques is now hanging in Washington D.C. with the names of other award winners.


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