More than 90 percent of American businesses fail within the first year of starting up, Inc. Magazine reported in 2015.

Better planning would improve that number, significantly.

“Problem-solving is key,” said Jill Huizenga, an instructor and small-business owner who will provide a free workshop for prospective entrepreneurs from 9 to 11 a.m. Saturday at Madison College’s Portage campus. Her workshop will be broadcast live to the college’s regional campuses in Reedsburg, Fort Atkinson and Watertown.

Proper research and financing don’t owe credit to magic wands or getting lucky — they’re products of the right mindset, Huizenga said of what she’ll discuss in the workshop. The right mindset “means being a better person, employee, citizen — developing your self-awareness.”

In Beaver Dam, Huizenga and her business partners started Niche Publications Inc. in 2004, sharing stories about local women in Inspire Magazine.

“Our tagline is: ‘Every woman has a story,’ and we feel that’s very true,” she said about Inspire. Huizenga grew up working in her father’s sheet metal fabrication business in Michigan, where she “was able to see firsthand what it meant to own and operate a small business, and the dedication that took.”

For her father, she did everything from put together products used in the automotive industry and Department of Defense to cleaning his shop and mowing the lawn.

“Whatever needed to be done,” she said of that work.

Huizenga, who lives in Cambria, has taught in the Small Business Entrepreneurship program at Madison College for seven years. She also helps entrepreneurs through the local Innovation Champions Group, which started in 2016.

“Her workshop would be invaluable to anybody looking to start a new small business,” said Steve Sobiek, director of business development and planning in Portage.

Sobiek helped launch Innovation Champions along with the since-retired Nancy Elsing of Columbia County Economic Development Corp. and Two Rivers Coffee Shop owner Nathan Smith. Innovation Champions is essentially a support group for entrepreneurs, Sobiek said, and holds regular events in Columbia, Sauk and Dodge counties.

“She’s a dynamo — one of the state’s pre-eminent experts for entrepreneurs,” he said.

Good location

LendEDU — an online marketplace for student loan refinancing — recently ranked Portage sixth-best out of 700 Wisconsin communities for starting a small business. The company had earlier ranked Portage ninth in the state for its attractiveness to first-time homebuyers.

Portage’s high small-business ranking should give confidence to Huizenga’s workshop attendees, Sobiek said.

“No. 1, I think we have the advantage (in the region) for transportation,” he said, referring to the I-39/90/94 interchange and state highways 51, 33 and 16. “Most importantly, as a small community, I think your everyday expenses to run a business, especially a smaller business, are much lower.”

He also pointed to the reduced cost of living and property expenses.

Resources like Innovation Champions as well as the Portage Enterprise Center, the city’s business incubator, also benefit entrepreneurs in the Portage region, he added.

Said Huizenga: “We’ll take a look at the thought processes that go into starting your own business — if you’ve thought about it in the past but never stepped forward. The trends; the importance of small businesses to the economy; what makes successful entrepreneurs.

“An entrepreneurial mindset is looking at everything through an entrepreneurial lens: How are ideas formed? What is the feasibility (of an idea)? What are the next steps?”

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