RISE students during a meeting earlier this year.

The inaugural class of the Real Investment in Sanford Entrepreneurs program (RISE) celebrated its graduation ceremony virtually on Wednesday — marking the end of a year of learning the ins and outs of starting a small business and forming a valuable network to help make their businesses a success. 

Twelve entrepreneurs were chosen from a group of 30 applicants to go through a weekly course in business management. The program is hosted by the Sanford Area Growth Alliance, the Chamber of Commerce and Downtown Sanford Inc., in conjunction with the Central Carolina Community College Small Business Center. 

The graduates all presented their business plans at the end of the “semester,” and one student was picked to receive a $5,000 grant from the City of Sanford to help start their business. The inaugural scholarship winner was Jan Smith, a registered yoga instructor who’s looking to launch her own yoga studio in Sanford. 

RISE graduate Jan Smith, recipient of a $5,000 grant to start her own yoga studio in Sanford.

“My experience [in RISE] was fantastic,” Smith said during the graduation ceremony, performed via Zoom with 11 of the 12 graduates on hand, as well as representatives from the city, CCCC, Downtown Sanford Inc. and the Chamber of Commerce on hand. “I gained so much from the program and met a lot of great people. If I have questions, I know where to go now to reach out. And the most important thing I got from this is more confidence. I know where the resources are, I know the steps I need to take to start a business, and I feel really good about starting from here. It’s been wonderful to be a part of this program.”

CCCC President Lisa Chapman was among the speakers Wednesday offering congratulations and words of encouragement moving forward. Chapman noted that this group faces a challenge in starting their businesses during a global pandemic that has all but wrecked the nation’s economy.

“I’m pretty sure when you started this program and decided to start a business, you weren’t expecting a pandemic,” she said. “It’s a challenge, but I’m certain it’s a challenge you’re up for and one you’ll meet head on because you have the support of a network of folks here and the support of our community.

“The pandemic is a big bump in the road, and I won’t pretend it’s not. But we’re in a position [as a city] to handle it as well as any community because of the partnerships that have been formed. We have the best coalition who want the best for this community that you can find in North Carolina. I honestly believe that.” 

The inaugural class of RISE included: Jan Smith, Jasmine Bartoe, Melissa Caddick, Keona Carr, Maggie and Luke Cranford, James Haney and Angel Mills, Akeashia Hooker, Rebecca Love, Lashonda McDougald and Kevin Alderson.