While running child care centers owned by others, Tammy Imme often dreamed of owning her own business, but it wasn’t until her husband lost his job that the New Berlin resident decided to take the plunge.
“That was the moment where we decided to do something bigger,” Imme said.
Working for a large, national chain of child care centers, as well as a locally owned center had given Imme a deep understanding of the day-to-day operations of child care centers. She knew how to manage staff and supplies, communicate with parents and families and develop connections with schools and suppliers in the area. But she had never drawn up a budget, done a financial forecast or created a business plan.
Imme understood she needed to acquire these skills somewhere, but enrolling in school again didn’t seem feasible when she was working full-time. Enter the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (UWM) Small Business Development Center. Students in its Entrepreneurial Training Program meet in the evening, usually once a week.
Jason Mueller, the program manager for the Small Business Development Center, said the program is designed to help entrepreneurs through the start-up process, but it can help existing businesses as well.
“Really, we help people start up and grow,” Mueller said.
Imme and her husband both enrolled in the program. The councilors and instructors taught her how to budget and track expenses and create a business plan for what would become Apple Ridge Academy, which serves children from infancy to 12 years old.
“I could not have done it without them,” said Imme who still uses some of the program’s spreadsheets to keep track of her business’s finances.
She met business owners who had successfully gone through the program and got their advice. She learned the importance of having a pragmatic financial approach to the critical first year of business and that having adequate reserves may determine whether a business sinks or swims.
“They told us the seed money you need for a start-up is really three times what you think,” Imme said.
The program also included instruction on financing, which helped Imme when she her first loan from the Wisconsin Women’s Business Initiative Corp.
She used that money to lease and renovate a building in New Berlin. UWM’s Small Business Development Center helped her there as well, teaching her how to figure out which classrooms presented the best options for initial repairs based on Wisconsin rules governing teacher, child and space ratios.
“They really help you drill down to the basics of what you absolutely have to have,” Imme said. And the center is available to students even after they finish their program. “You have the support if you need it.”
Imme opened a second location in Brookfield last year, and it is quickly nearing capacity. She said she’d like to pay off her loans and buy both buildings before doing additional renovations to expand.
Growing in a smart way is another thing she learned at UWM. On her own, “I just would not have known what to do,” Imme said.
By Graham Kilmer