There are nearly 600 million entrepreneurs in the world, and by 2020, America will have 27 million self-employed professionals, according to the Fresh Books.
Paradise Valley Community College’s alum Gwendolyn McKay is one of them, sharing with us her story and experience on how she pursued her dreams of becoming an entrepreneur.
Gwendolyn joined the Army right out of high school. It wasn’t until years later that she decided to go back to school, explaining that higher education would ultimately change her life. She had worked as a contractor with the Arizona Army National Guard for eight years and suddenly, was forced to justify her job due to budget cuts. While pursuing a new job, Gwendolyn discovered that she would need at a minimum an Associate’s Degree, or even better, a Bachelors and/or Masters to pursue jobs in the public sector that interested her. In Fall 2016, Gwendolyn began part-time at PVCC, later enrolling full-time and graduating in May 2019.
As a student at PVCC, Gwendolyn was extremely involved in campus life, serving as a Secretary for the Veterans and Patriots Club and being inducted into the Phi Theta Kappa International Honor Society. She carried a 3.5 or higher Grade Point Average (GPA) and earned a spot on the President’s Honor List. Due to her scholastic achievements, she received a $4,000/year, renewable scholarship from NAU, which she deemed “well worth the one-time $85 fee to PTK.
Entrepreneurship Education Center’s Impact
While pursuing her Associates in Business at PVCC, Gwendolyn also took classes under the Entrepreneurial Studies Level 1 Certificate. The Entrepreneurship Education Center (EEC) provided her guidance she needed to pursue her dream of owning and operating a business.
“I was scouting a business to buy and approached my professor Dr. Dash, who referred me to the free services on campus provided by the SCORE organization,” she said. Gwendolyn met with SCORE volunteers, who provided her with helpful information on contacts, a checklist for establishing her LLC, EIN with the IRS, Transaction Privilege Tax with Arizona, and various other necessary documents.
“Working with the EEC, helped me unveil everything I needed to move forward with my plans,” she said. “I couldn’t have done it without them.”
Realizing Her Dreams
Today, Gwendolyn is the proud owner of the Chocolate Tour of Scottsdale.
“When I was 10 years old, I sold homemade cheesecakes and cookies at the end of my driveway. Eventually, I started selling crafts and moved on to Mary Kay cosmetics when I was 18. Since then, I’ve done various MLM ventures, always with the goal that one day I would own and operate a Bed and Breakfast when my son went to college,” Gwendolyn said.
When the owner of Chocolate Tour of Scottsdale decided to sell, Gwendolyn jumped at the opportunity. She had been a customer for several years and was set to begin working for the owner in Fall 2017. Once she made the decision to buy the business, everything was set in motion.
“I’m gearing up for our third season and am loving the experience!” she said. “I take tourists and locals on a two-mile guided walk through waterfront Scottsdale and guests get to sample their way from stop to stop. Treats range from single-origin bean to bar chocolate, Italian gelato, brownies, cupcakes, truffles, and more. I also include the history of chocolate, Scottsdale, fixed and temporary art, and the businesses we visit. Sometimes the owners give their own story and offer additional incentives while on the tour. From October to March, you can find me on the streets of Scottsdale with a group of happy customers behind me.”
Gwendolyn hopes in sharing her story, other students and alumni will take advantage of enlisting the EEC with their business ideas. PVCC also partners with SCORE and SBDC for free mentoring services on campus by appointments.
Friendly Advice for Other Entrepreneurs
Whether you have an innovative idea and are interested in building a new business, or if you plan on buying an established business, remember:
- Be flexible and adaptable to change.
- Research your competition and craft your elevator pitch.
- Sign up for SCORE workshops and networking opportunities throughout the valley.
- Make sure you research LLC’s, Corporations, and Sole Proprietorships prior to doing the paperwork and paying application fees.
- Take the Entrepreneurial Studies Level 1 Certificate
You’ll be well on your way to having the base necessary to pursue your dreams.