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Boot Camps for Entrepreneurs These programs can provide you with the tools you'll need before seeking out investors for your startup.

By Eileen P. Gunn

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

If you're a first-time entrepreneur with a business idea, you probably need to do a lot of research and planning before you're able to persuade anyone -- banks, angels, friends or family members -- to give you funding.

Startup boot camps can help. Their sole purpose is to teach you how to write a business plan and to take hard look at your financial needs and prospects. It's also a chance to address the shortcomings in your idea and develop answers to the tough questions anyone would ask before handing you money. These programs may take place over a weekend, several weeks or even a few months.

Related: What I Learned at Entrepreneur Boot Camp

By providing a framework to learn about running a business, a boot camp can make you accountable for tasks you should be doing anyway. These programs are often free or subsidized by foundations, universities or local governments that are looking to spur employment and economic growth.

Here are a few examples of boot camp programs, plus tips to help you find one near you that fits your needs.

How to Find an Entrepreneur Boot Camp

To locate a program in your area that suits you, do a web search using as keywords the type of program that interests you, such as foundation or accelerator. Also make sure to include your city or region.

What: FastTrac offered by organizations affiliated with the Kauffman Foundation, a Kansas City, Mo.-based organization devoted to entrepreneurship.

Where: Nationwide

Type: Funded by foundations and other not-for-profits.

Who: One version is designed for entrepreneurs who are launching new technology or science-based ventures. Another is for those who are starting nearly anything else. A third version is geared toward business owners who are looking to grow their companies.

Cost: Free

What to expect: The NewVenture program for startups is usually seven full days over four weeks. A group of peers, session leaders and visiting experts will help you to vet your idea, show you how to do business research and help you to ask and answer the important financial questions you need to write a business plan. They'll also give you food for thought on the best way to fund your idea.

What: Bizdom U

Where: Detroit and Cleveland

Type: "Accelerator" programs that combine training with access to startup funds or investors.

Who: People who want to launch their businesses in Detroit or Cleveland and can dedicate a chunk of time to get their business idea ready for seed money and launch.

Cost: Free

What to expect: An intense four months of working with experts and coaches and researching the aspects of starting and running a company. You'll receive lots of hands-on learning. For example, you might sit in at a local business's call center to learn about sales. By the end of the program, if your idea is ready to go you'll have the opportunity to win over investors at a pitch event.

What: Entrepreneurs Boot Camp at the Falcone Center for Entrepreneurship

Where: The Whitman School of Business at Syracuse University, Syracuse, N.Y.

Type: Run by local business schools with small business or entrepreneurship centers.

Who: A good fit for those who balance day jobs or other commitments with their entrepreneurial aspirations.

Cost: $650

What to expect: Six Saturday sessions cover much of the same ground as the FastTrac program. A lot of time is spent on understanding business financials and building a business plan around them. At completion, entrepreneurs should feel confident that they can write a business plan, make realistic financial projections and keep their books when they get going.

What: Ann Arbor SPARK Entrepreneur Boot Camp

Where: The SPARK office, a regional business-development nonprofit, in Ann Arbor, Mich.

Type: Run by a local economic-development agency or organization.

Who: Designed for technology-driven companies in Michigan, the program is open to entrepreneurs with a solid business plan who are committed full time to their business idea.

Cost: $1,500

What to expect: In this two-day camp, peers, experts and one-on-one mentors help entrepreneurial teams refine their business plan and develop an investor presentation and elevator pitch. Mentors introduce a variety of resources, including potential investors. Entrepreneurs can walk away ready to pitch possible backers. After the session, participants continue to receive consulting and mentoring, additional introductions and invitations to business events.

Eileen P. Gunn is a freelance writer in New York.

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