Helping build businesses and changing lives.That's the mission of a Rainier Valley organization that's helped thousands of low-income entrepreneurs over the years.

It's helping Joyce Nicole figure out how to start her cheesecake business.

"Teach me!" she says with a smile. And they are.

Every Tuesday night for eight weeks, she and 35 aspiring entrepreneurs take a class at Ventures. They are classes on how to start a business.

"We're teaching them how to fish. We're not going to fish for them," says Beto Yarce, Executive Director at Ventures.

Yarce points out that for 20 years, Ventures was called Washington CASH. The name change went into effect Saturday, May 2.

"Our new name better aligns our mission, values, and organizational identity," says Yarce. "We're providing not just access to capital ( through micro-loans) but training, access to legal services, access to best minds in the world of entrepreneurship."

Mark Benoit is paying close attention. He wants to start a landscaping business.

"Gardening is my passion," says Benoit.

But it was never his profession. The 50-year-old was laid off from his tech job last September. Mark is seizing this opportunity to learn everything he can in this eight week business development training. "I'm all in," he says.

There are critical questions each of these aspiring small business owners has to answer? "When are you going to diversify your product? Is that going to happen? What is your industry? Is the industry growing?" says Yarce.

Is there a market?

Joyce Nicole and Mark Benoit learned about marketing in week 2. "Class 3 is sales," says Yarce. "Class 4, how are you going to make money from your business financials." Class 5? It's 'Determining your break-even point. Class 6? Cash flow.

"Without cash, you can't do anything with your business. Literally, " says James Dunn, one of the instructors at Ventures. "I live for the light bulbs going off. People are struggling and they're sitting there and it's suddenly Ahhh."

James Dunn also lives for graduations. That's in the eighth week of the course. We were there when the students received their certificates of completion.

"I'm proud. I can't wait to go home and put it in a frame," says Nicole.

Instructor and entrepreneur James Dunn turned to the class on the final day and told them how proud he is. " "You guys are my heroes and I'm going to tell you why you're my heroes. You are my heroes because you're willing to take a chance."

New beginnings. They can be daunting. "It's huge," says Mark Benoit holding back tears. "People's lives are being changed."

When opportunity knocks, you want to be able to say "I'm ready," says Nicole. Now the hard part. Making it work. And seizing this opportunity provided by Ventures.

The organization also offers micro-loans to aspiring entrepreneurs. Joyce Nicole is passing on that opportunity for now.

For more information about the non-profit, go to

Ventures also has a facebook page: