Starting and running your own business could be the road to economic security, nearly 200 single parents were told Saturday. They also were warned that entrepreneurship is hard work and the risk of failure is high.

The parents were attending a kickoff seminar on Entrepreneurship for Single Parents (ESP) at Salt Lake Community College, sponsored by the Salt Lake County Housing Authority and the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA).The two-phase, 20-week seminar is being held to present information to potential business owners about the rewards and pitfalls of owning and running a business.

Participants in the first 10 weeks will try to discover if they have the type of personality and motivation to start and operate their own business. The second phase covers the planning and operation of a business.

Three women, all single parents and successful in the business world, discussed how they got into business and what it takes to run one.

The ESP program is new, western region Housing and Urban Development (HUD) director Mike Chitwood said, and his agency is looking at it closely.

"This program is at the cutting edge," Chitwood said. If successful in Salt Lake City, the program could be a model for the other states in his region and across the country, he said.

The goal of the program is to enable motivated single parents to make enough money to move out of public or rent-subsidized housing and into a home of their own, Chitwood said.

"We're coming together to learn about possibilities, about how to make a dream come true," SBA representative Josie Valdez said. She also warned of the pitfalls, quoting federal SBA statistics showing that 50 percent of the small, single-owner businesses fail within their first year, 80 percent within three years.

"We cannot make it happen for you," Valdez said. "But we are there to answer your questions and point the way."

Laura Jenkinson, owner of Laura's Interiors, told the audience - mostly young, single mothers - how she started her interior decorating business to support herself and her three children.

There was nothing like the ESP program a decade ago, she said, adding it would have saved her from making several mistakes, a learning process that took two to three years.

"As a woman, I had to make the most amount of money in the least amount of time. I realized I had to do it on my own because there was not a place for me in the business world," Jenkinson said.

"Women are not groomed for entrepreneurial positions. It's not that we can't do it, it's that we're not groomed for it," she said. The emphasis in their education is not on technical or business subjects, Jenkinson said.

"You learn in your own business, in a profound way, your own strengths and weaknesses," Jenkinson said.