carlaLuckily for Carla Carson, her active, on-the-go career in the fitness industry – along with her entrepreneurial vision – prepared her well for an elite “boot camp” in business building.

From a pool of hundreds of high-achieving applicants from across the country, Carson, an ACE client who owns Anytime Fitness in Decatur, was one of 70 entrepreneurs confirmed for the first Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses at Babson College program. The training program, delivered by Babson College through a blend of online and in person sessions, connects small business owners with a nationally sourced class of peers for 10 weeks of practical, intensive education consisting of a combination of solo projects, online coursework, one-on-one mentoring, and group projects and classes. While at Babson College during one of the two, four-day on campus sessions, “We often worked from 8:30 in the morning to 10 at night,” said Carson. “It was exhausting, fast-paced, and intense — and probably the best learning experience of my life.”

Competition for this program is fierce; Carson underwent a thorough screening and interview process to determine her goals and potential for success. Once she was selected, the program paid for her tuition to participate, as well as her travel and lodging expenses when visiting Babson College. The program emphasizes big-picture concepts – differentiating between real “opportunities” and “ideas,” identifying strengths and weaknesses in yourself and your associates – as well as the finer points of day-to-day operations such as reading balance sheets and financial statements, drafting sound hiring policies, and marketing and sales.

The program is designed to help up-and-coming entrepreneurs take their small businesses to the next level of growth and success. Babson College, the curriculum designer for the entire 10,000 Small Businesses program, is consistently ranked No. 1 in Entrepreneurial Education by U.S. News and World Report.

“We did resource mapping, developed growth plans and exit strategies, did role-playing in negotiation training, consulted with lawyers from New York and Boston and received plenty of helpful feedback and input from individuals and groups,” Carson said. “All in all, it gave me a sense of how everything ties together and works with each other in the successful operation of a business.”

How does Carson plan to use this hard-won expertise?

“I’m about to hire two new employees, so already I’m going to implement the interviewing skills I learned at Babson, but, really, everything I studied will apply to what I do in the future,” she said.

Carson’s success comes as no surprise to her friends at ACE. In 2013, she was awarded the “Greenovation” award for her work in “Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability.” Carson has implemented “Silver Sneakers,” which enables Medicare to cover gym memberships for seniors, along with a similar program for Medicaid-covered clients, as a means of preventive, long-range health care.

Carson started her business five years ago, using a $50,000 loan from ACE.

“ACE has been such a godsend,” she said. “It’s not like a traditional lender who just disappears after the loan. The staff at ACE is always in touch, with so many resources on hand, to help with accounting and everything else that arises. It’s like having a partner – a really smart business partner and a helpful mentor, rolled into one.”