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New director leads business center

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Gena Messer-Knode, director of the Eastern North Carolina Center for Business & Entrepreneurship at N.C. Wesleyan College, poses on Thursday at the Gateway Technology Center.

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Monday, January 7, 2019

ROCKY MOUNT — Gena Messer-Knode is the new director of the Eastern North Carolina Center for Business & Entrepreneurship at the Gateway Technology Center on the campus of N.C. Wesleyan College.

Knode, who has taught different business courses at the college for several years, said she learned about the position being open through her students. David Walker was the director of the Center for Business & Entrepreneurship for the past several years.

Knode has been an entrepreneur for years, having owned and operated cleaning service businesses and working as a broker for a real estate company in North Carolina.

“I felt well-suited for this position do to the fact that I’ve been here teaching business, familar with the students and community and my background as an entrepreneur,” Knode said.

Knode said the center has been a well-kept secret since it was established in 2012. The programs are free, open to the public and a person does not have to have a degree to participate in the programs. The center focuses on business development, entrepreneurship and community engagement.

“I hope people realize that the center is an inclusive entrepreneurial resource stop,” Knode said. “If someone wants to come here, I do one-on-one counseling. I have mentors that can work with entrepreneurs and business owners and we also have events here that allow people to network that we plan to do more next year. In addition, we have computer labs that I can make available and a resource library.”

Knode said starting next year, the center will have three different track programs. The entrepreneurial track will consist of six seminars that will be two to three hours long for people who want to start a business.

The seminars are nonsequential and people can go to whichever one fits their need. In addition, there will a speakers series on Wednesday nights that covers everything from personal and professional development where individual presenters will speak on specific topics. Also, the corporate track is where the center can go out and do customized training to fit a business’ need.

Knode said one of the unique aspects of the center that sets it apart is putting college students in real business scenarios. Knode said any size business that may be struggling and needs a fresh pair of eyes can have the center send students to go in and look at particular challenges and come up with solutions.

“We do this for free and what the business gets is the students’ recommendations, and it becomes part of the student’s final project for their class,” Knode said. “I hear it from business owners all the time that we need people who can think critically and work through a problem or scenario. It’s a win-win because the students are gaining college credit and getting exposure, while the business is gaining input. We do it for all types of services. In January, we have about four different companies where we are placing students. I know some scenarios where students have been hired after the fact.”

For people who are interested in entrepreneurship, the Center for Business & Entrepreneurship offers an entrepreneurship degree program and the center is looking into offering a track primarily to help veterans who may have aspirations to become entrepreneurs, Knode said.

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