/ Modified nov 3, 2016 4:42 p.m.

Free Classes a 'Win-Win' For Local Entrepreneurs, UA's Eller

Eller Economic Development Program teaches local small businesses the basics.

Eller Class 125 students gathered at the Tucson YWCA for the final day of Eller's Economic Development Program.
Zac Ziegler

About 125 people filled a room at the Tucson YWCA for a potluck and their last opportunity to hear the advice of their teachers of the preceding weeks.

Poncho Chavez Eller Economic Development Program Manager Poncho Chavez speaks to the soon-to-be graduates from the program. This is the fifth year of the program.
Zac Ziegler

This was the final night of the Eller Economic Development Program, an education program offered to the public by the University of Arizona Eller College of Management.

And while many of the speakers were Eller professors, the crowd was not made up of UA students. They were local entrepreneurs.

“The idea was to help the development of businesses. Basically, helping existing small businesses by trying to offer them a very basic education,” said Program Manager Poncho Chavez.

The class asks Eller professors to condense the basics of a business topic into a three-hour lecture. They give those lectures to a class of 125 people one night a week for six weeks.

“The program is really geared to small business, people who are trying to start their business or have their business already," said Abel Leon, an early alum of the program and now a volunteer. "The information they provide helps you in your day-to-day transactions and with everything that happens in a small business.”

What was the biggest lesson Leon took from the program?

“You might have the best product out there, but if people don’t know about you, it doesn’t matter. It’s not going to go anywhere,” he said.

Lessons on how to get your product to the market is a lesson that at least one graduate of this class took to heart.

“I was able to define my niche market much easier, come up with a buyer persona profile where I was able to center my website around that niche market,” said Louis Riviera, who runs the Japanese pop culture blog Chasing Japan.

The lessons Riviera has learned are already paying off.

Abel Leon Program alum Abel Leon acted as master of ceremony for the graduation ceremony. Leon said the lessons he learned from the program have come in handy at his family's restaurant, Perfectos Mexican Restaurant.
Zac Ziegler

“We actually increased our website traffic, ever since I started this class six weeks ago, by about 50 percent,” he said.

He hopes the lessons will help him turn the blog into a moneymaker later on.

Sitting next to Riviera was Jim Tiggas, who runs several companies, including a business that brings college baseball teams to Tucson for spring training.

He has sought out Chavez and other Eller programs in the past.

“[Chavez] mentioned the class and said he thought I could benefit from it, so I jumped right on it. Anything to educate myself,” he said. “125 people showed up that are entrepreneurs, and for them to get a base education of what’s happening or what’s going to happen to them is really important.”

Chavez thinks the program is a great way for Eller to help Tucson.

“The community is winning. Our economy is winning. Eller is winning because our reputation is gaining by giving back to the community. Everybody is loving this program because it’s a win-win for everybody," he said.

And Chavez, just like many of his students is eyeing growth.

“Instead of two classes a year, one in Spanish and one in English, we are targeting two in English and two in Spanish," he said.

That would mean he and his co-workers would be able to reach 500 Tucson entrepreneurs each year.

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