About 15 men and women will graduate Thursday from a 10-week business planning course designed to help residents, especially women, learn how to create a business plan and potentially become Rutland's next entrepreneurs. During the event, which starts at 6 p.m. at the Community College of Vermont, students will present the business plans they developed during the course. It was presented in collaboration with the Center for Women and Enterprise Vermont (CWE) and hosted by the Rutland Economic Development Corp. (REDC). The course was led by Hannah Abrams, a business coach based in Killington. Gwen Pokalo, director of CWE Vermont, said her organization assists entrepreneurs by offering business counseling and training, often at no cost to participants. Thursday's graduates, for instance, were able to take the course for free because it was sponsored by a business. CWE Vermont is based in Burlington but serves the whole state through partners who offer financial support or host a course. Thursday marks the end of the second course the organization has held in Rutland. The Rutland Region Chamber of Commerce hosted the first CWE class while REDC hosted the second. Free classes have also been offered in St. Johnsbury and a paid, accelerated version has been offered in Waitsfield. Pokalo described Rutland as “such an exciting place to be doing entrepreneurship development and small business support.” “There is such momentum there with the active and terrific community economic development organizations," she said. "The business community is really supportive. There's some phenomenally talented and interesting entrepreneurs so it's a natural place to be offering additional support to make sure that those entrepreneurs are really blowing out at the seams." Pokalo said CWE, which has been in Vermont more than two years, took a special interest in Rutland soon after the regional organization opened a Vermont office. “Rutland has been, since the start, on our radar. It really is innovative and has access to a fascinating group of people. The resources in the area are really collaborative and supportive. It's almost a natural, obvious roll-out of programming,” she said. Erin Anderson, the outreach coordinator for REDC, will be one of Thursday's graduates. During the course, Anderson said students learned everything from the “elevator pitch” and planning the initial business idea to financial planning, marketing and insurance, culminating in the creation of a business plan. “You go through the ups and downs of feeling like you can run a business to feeling the opposite of 'This is hard work. How does anybody do it?'" Anderson said. "But by the end you feel you've got this comprehensive proof of your hard work with the business plan." Many of the students are also participants in the MINT Maker space, a shared work space where people can develop a business idea or product. Anderson estimated half of the graduating students had heard about the class through the MINT and planned to use its facilities to carry out their business plan. She said REDC became involved because they recognized the need for entrepreneurship development in the Rutland area. By taking the class herself, Anderson, who said her proposed business involves artistic photography, will be able to advocate for it when people approach REDC staff about the class' value. According to Pokalo, the goal is to continue offering the class. One is being planned for the fall. Pokalo said in addition to the services targeted toward women, CWE Vermont also houses the Veteran Business Outreach Center for New England for veterans and their family who might need additional resources and services. The best way to learn about the next Rutland class is through the organization's website at cweonline.org, Pokalo said.