August 2, 2014

Midland Daily News

Mount Pleasant entrepreneur and cosmetologist Stephanie Prout was determined to overcome obstacles and use her 20 years of experience to open a cosmetology academy. That’s exactly what she’s set to do this fall, when Water Works Academy is scheduled to open its doors for its inaugural class.

Prout already owns Water Works Salon & Spa, an upscale salon in downtown Mount Pleasant. The business got its name from the historic building where it’s housed. 503 W. Broadway was once the Mount Pleasant City Water Works building, and still holds many of its original characteristics. The salon is trendy and busy, but Prout found an educational gap in the skills of her potential employees.

To help make her academy dream come true, Prout reached out to the Central Michigan University Research Corp., a nonprofit business incubator that helps entrepreneurs reach their goals.

“With Stephanie, the question wasn’t if, but rather when and how many road blocks would need to be removed,” said CMURC President and CEO Erin O’Brien.

The Water Works building itself was one of those road blocks. Its light brick and high ceilings give it beauty and character, but that also means extra zoning requirements, and extra funding to preserve its historic integrity. Through the Small Business and Development Center and CMURC, Prout was able to get help with funding for renovations.

Those renovations include requirements the state imposes on salons with schools. Michigan’s current occupational code requires that cosmetology establishments and schools be separated by partitions and doors. Prout used her network and experience to advocate a bill to amend that code, and her bill is moving through the state legislature.

Prout’s academy is now in the construction phase, and she’s enrolling students for the first 43-week class. The class sizes will be smaller than other schools like Aveda Institute and Protégé Academy, making the learning experience more intimate and hands-on.

“It’s been a tough road, there were times when I wanted to give up, but support from friends, family and CMURC enabled me to persevere and keep going,” Prout said.