PBS NewsHour


This entrepreneur insists any business can launch for free

It’s commonly believed that you need money to start a company, but a pair of British entrepreneurs are spreading a different message. Through their initiative PopUp Business School, Alan Donegan and his team train people with little capital, but a lot of ideas, how to turn their entrepreneurial visions into reality. Paul Solman reports on how the free program encourages aspiring innovators.

AIRED: March 14, 2019 | 0:08:19

JUDY WOODRUFF: Most people think you need money to start a company, but the PopUp Business

School is taking a completely different approach.

Our economics correspondent, Paul Solman, has the story.

It is part of our weekly series, Making Sense.

ALAN DONEGAN, Co-Founder, PopUp Business School: People don't want to interrupt, so they do

this weird hover, like waiting for a gap.

And then they kind of wait for the gap and go, hah-hah, yes.


PAUL SOLMAN: At a Houston mall, zany British entrepreneurship coach Alan Donegan demonstrating

how to network.

ALAN DONEGAN: There is going to be a moment of awkwardness when you meet someone new.

If you want it to be over, done quickly, go up to them and say, "Hi, I'm Alan."

PAUL SOLMAN: This was day seven of a two-week PopUp Business School, which teaches the basics

of starting a business on a shoestring.

ALAN DONEGAN: People think they need to borrow money to launch a business.

PAUL SOLMAN: They don't?


Like, pretty much any business, you can start for free.

It's not as easy.

You have to be creative.

You have to borrow things and barter.

And you need to use your energy.

But we haven't found a business that we can't yet find a way to start for free.

PAUL SOLMAN: Come on, really?

But in the last seven years, Donegan and team have held over 100 workshops for mostly low-income

wannabe entrepreneurs, in a world that thinks you need money to make money.

ALAN DONEGAN: You don't want to put measure pressure on them and more debt on them.

You want to help them make money, rather than get into debt.

PAUL SOLMAN: The course is free, thanks here in Houston to sponsors like the Houston Housing

Authority, which recruited people from the city's poorest neighborhoods, like Sylvia

Guilliam, teeming with ideas.

SYLVIA GUILLIAM, Entrepreneur: I do holistic health projects.

I wanted to do actually one-on-one health and wellness coaching.

PAUL SOLMAN: But the course helps her to focus on homemade soaps and taught her the free

tools to sell them.

SYLVIA GUILLIAM: So, I learned how the make a Web site and just building relationships.

PAUL SOLMAN: Another lesson, how to sell yourself.

Is there any advantage to being a tall entrepreneur?


People can see me coming, and I can see them coming.


PAUL SOLMAN: The first six days were about creating a company, finding customers.

Now was time to actually sell in the mall.

ALAN DONEGAN: If you do a survey, people will be nice to you.

If you go and ask your friends, they will be mice to you.

It's not good feedback.

You ask a customer to take their money out of their pocket, they will tell you exactly

what they want.

PAUL SOLMAN: Guilliam quickly discovered her soap samples looked good, too good.

Somebody actually ate one of these?

SYLVIA GUILLIAM: Yes, because they're all natural things in the kitchen, connected to


That's why I just have to let people know, don't eat it.


PAUL SOLMAN: In her victims' defense, edible samples abounded.

MAN: Ice coffee.

PAUL SOLMAN: Very nice.

WOMAN: Do you have hair on your chest?



This will put more on it.

KEVIN SCOTT, Entrepreneur: I specialize in brownies, butterscotch, peach cobbler, chocolate

caramel, and these are butterscotch.

PAUL SOLMAN: Kevin Scott designs clothes, promotes events, and already has a Houston


KEVIN SCOTT: What I wanted to do doing this training is concentrate on just one business

and use it as a model.

Even though I have already a business going, I didn't do everything 100 percent correct.

PAUL SOLMAN: Cheryn Pollard was demoing dog massage.

Now, I'm allergic, so I shouldn't...

CHERYN POLLARD, Entrepreneur: Me too.



PAUL SOLMAN: You're allergic to dogs?

CHERYN POLLARD: My love overcomes it.


PAUL SOLMAN: Pollard's main takeaway from the course, how to start cheap.

CHERYN POLLARD: This massage bed is actually - - someone was selling it to humans for doing


PAUL SOLMAN: Yes, right.

CHERYN POLLARD: And they couldn't sell it because it has some stains on it.

Well, I cover it up when I'm using it for dogs, so I got a massage table for $25.

PAUL SOLMAN: Also, over the years, a drone flying school, an escape room, clown entertainment,

hand balancing.

ALAN DONEGAN: And there was a zombie fitness training lady.

PAUL SOLMAN: A zombie fitness training lady?

How does that work?

ALAN DONEGAN: She would dress up as a zombie and chase you around the park, and you would


And you would get fit.


PAUL SOLMAN: No way, thought Donegan, but it turns out there is now a zombie fitness

movement worldwide.

Seriously, though, how many of these ideas have become viable companies?

ALAN DONEGAN: In Reading, in Berkshire, in England, we did a longitudinal study, which

is basically tracking people over time after the event.

We ran three courses, had 335 people along for the three courses.

Of those, 122 started a business.

Eighteen months later, 89 percent were still trading.

And I really do think that's because they started without debt, so they didn't have

anything at the most vulnerable point of their business that would drag them down.

PAUL SOLMAN: In Houston, some seemed more vulnerable than others.

Single mom Nakia Sims, despite a law degree, has had her struggles.

NAKIA SIMS, Entrepreneur: The house burned down.

We stayed in hotels.

And so I could not afford that.

I went to my church.

They suggested the Salvation Army.

We lived there for six months.

PAUL SOLMAN: She's now in public housing, learning to concentrate her considerable talents

on a theater business to entertain kids.

NAKIA SIMS: The opportunity here is meeting other people that are holding me accountable.

PAUL SOLMAN: Christall Sipsey has learned social media marketing for her health and

media consultancy.

CHRISTALL SIPSEY, Entrepreneur: There are pod groups that you can create among certain

friends, and that helps kind of blast your information out a lot further.

PAUL SOLMAN: At the booth next door, James Barnett, Sipsey's dad.

JAMES BARNETT, Entrepreneur: That's my biggest fan right there.

PAUL SOLMAN: Barnett came to the mall at his daughter's urging to promote his specialty


JAMES BARNETT: I have been making this sauce for years and giving it away.

Family, friends said, hey, you ought to sell this.

This stuff is good.

CHRISTALL SIPSEY: I have been calling him on the phone and filling his ear up with all

kind of information that I'm learning.

PAUL SOLMAN: Calling her dad and coming home at night to advise her husband, Konkheis,

on his new business.

KONKHEIS SIPSEY, Entrepreneur: Every day, she comes home, I get an earful, at least

45 minutes to an hour, until I fall asleep.


PAUL SOLMAN: The family was in a homeless shelter just a few years ago.

Now dad is starting a youth sports program.

KONKHEIS SIPSEY: I have been where these kids have been.

I had a promising future in basketball, but since no father figure, no good role model

to try to guide me to where I should be going, I took another route, stealing, breaking windows.

Just had nothing to do.

So I'm trying to give kids something to do.

Some are being called to the streets in gang violence.

It's just not what I want to see.

PAUL SOLMAN: Christall Sipsey is teaching her husband everything she's learning at the

PopUp B School, because his business could mean so much both to him and to others.

As Donegan puts it:

ALAN DONEGAN: We help people build businesses from something they love to do.

PAUL SOLMAN: Even those with no obvious resources at all.

ALAN DONEGAN: They just have got a phone, or they don't have technical skills.

Like, there's people without bank accounts, no e-mail addresses.

PAUL SOLMAN: But may be able to throw together some ingredients, add their own sweat equity,

and sell.

MAN: We have pork, cream cheese.

We have jalapenos, spinach.

PAUL SOLMAN: Some will take off.

MAN: It's really good.

PAUL SOLMAN: Many won't, but says Donegan:

ALAN DONEGAN: If you have spent a week coming up with the idea, and you launch, if it doesn't

work, you have lost a bit of time, maybe a bit of pride, but we can pick you up and give

you the energy to have another go.

And most people's successes are not first business they run.

Should I do the, like, hover on the edge and wait?

PAUL SOLMAN: And if they know how to try again for almost nothing, maybe they will take another


Wow, that is...

WOMAN: God's margarita.


PAUL SOLMAN: "PBS NewsHour" economics correspondent Paul Solman, sampling fare at the Memorial

City Mall in Houston, Texas.