Fledgling ideas take flight
Helping Vermont’s young entrepreneurs transform a brilliant idea from a glimmer into an operational business is a vital component of Vermont Small Business Development Center’s (VtSBDC) mission and services. Since 1992, VtSBDC advisors have worked with entrepreneurs of all ages and stages, and value their amazing creativity and hard work that continue to make an impact on the state’s economy. Connecting with college-age entrepreneurs is both hopeful and inspiring – opening our eyes to the next generation of small business owners in Vermont.
In that spirit, part 3 of The Starting Point’s three-part collegiate entrepreneurship blog series puts the spotlight on the trajectory of seven shining stars with a glimpse into “Where are they now?”
The following students were/are mentored by VtSBDC area advisor and statewide collegiate entrepreneur specialist Sarah Kearns:
Skylar Bagdon, Chromajam LLC, senior, UVM
ChromaJam™ brings the immersive and energetic lighting of a live concert into your home with a customizable, user-friendly smart device that syncs LED lights with your music for an affordable price.
Adam Wisco, Bigg-A-Bed, Middlebury College
Bigg-A-Bed: BETTER NIGHTS FOR BETTER DAYS: The most affordable and only Middlebury College student-owned and operated bed rental company.
William Deschenes, AnyTides, senior, Champlain College
AnyTides, contemporary snow pants for today’s young adult offering a signature cut along with a frequently revolving inventory.
Ali Belash, Hypnotherapy Practice, UVM
Ali Belash Hypnotherapy will teach people how to align their subconscious mind with their conscious desires, for example committing to new habits, overcoming fears, and raising self-esteem, as well as the mind-body connection, managing stress, and enhancing the body’s natural healing abilities.
Riley Seith, Laces, graduate of Champlain College
Laces, is a running app that incorporates safety features to alleviate the challenges of running and getting lost in unfamiliar places. The primary function of the app is the ability to “draw” your route and have navigation guiding you.
Bianca Gonzalez, SheFly® Apparel LLC, graduate of Middlebury College
SheFly Apparel: Outdoor pants designed so everyone can answer nature’s call.
Following are excerpts from a survey about the students’ internships, business starts, and VtSBDC experiences:
The Starting Point: What resources helped you most when you were starting your business?
Skylar: The resources available to entrepreneurs outside the classroom were key, for example: VCET, VtSBDC, Jumpstart, business pitch competitions, and Venturewell. Undergrad research grants have also been super helpful. One-on-one advising with Sarah has helped me find resources, make relevant connections, think in a more straightforward and cohesive way about my business strategy, and generally gave me emotional support. VtSBDC has great people with great energy and enthusiasm! Sarah literally said to me, “Tell me what keeps you up at night and I’ll try to help fix it.” Truly amazing
The Starting Point: How has starting a business helped you find solutions to problems?
Adam: I’ve always loved solving problems, whether they were between people, a level in a video game, or in homework. As for Bigg-A-Bed, it was really a snowball effect of realizing there was a problem and then just continuously rolling with the solutions I was finding until I realized I had a business. In addition to helping me in an advisory capacity, I don’t think I’ve ever had a problem that Sarah wasn’t able to provide some feedback on, or a connection to someone who’s an expert in the field. Made doubly tricky by my student visa, Sarah has been an amazing help and has always been ready and willing to talk through a problem with me or provide solutions. I’ve loved my VtSBDC experience, I am insanely appreciative of it, and I’m looking forward to being able to give back to it at some point in the future!
The Starting Point: What strategies did you implement when starting your business?
William: When I found the right opportunity to create change in my community, I knew I wanted to start my own business. Sarah is my business advisor and I reach out to her whenever I need help. She’s the only resource I need and always has great insight to where I should be looking to utilize what I have now to my best advantage. She easily helped me overcome simple mistakes in the strategy of my business style. She really helped guide me in a direction with the image of my company and utilizing online selling.
The Starting Point: Was it challenging to build confidence when you first started out?
Ali: During college, I developed the idea for my business and found VtSBDC through a Google search, and was also referred by UVM’s career center and VCET. My internship at Collegiate Entrepreneurs has 100% been the foundation to the career I am starting to develop. Through their leadership and program I learned that I can do anything I set my mind to. I learned to be confident, take myself seriously, get organized, stay focused. And I learned so much about marketing, sales, management, profit, human nature, and life balance by actually being coached through running (and massively scaling) my business. Next I plan to get advice on legal/liability matters, and get coached on developing and sticking to my business plans. I am super excited about working with VtSBDC. Sarah can hold me accountable (or help me hold myself accountable) and get me unstuck. I will be less fearful being able to problem solve with her.
The Starting Point: How did starting your own business enhance your education and vice versa?
Riley: I knew I wanted to start my business during freshman year of college when I realized that the app I needed didn’t exist, so I made it up and pitched it as a class project. I met Sarah through Launch VT and reached out to her after the program. Helpful college courses included: Business and the Entrepreneurial Mindset, Business Law, Marketing and the Organizational Mindset, Integrated Marketing Communications, Project Management, Introduction to Public Relations, Corporate Social Responsibility, Economics I don’t think I have had an experience that was not helpful in teaching me something I am reaping the benefits of today. VtSBDC gave us lots of advice, connecting us with lawyers to set up our LLC and connecting us with the Vermont Law School. We are currently working with a legal team through VLS and VtSBDC. Sarah is helping us articulate our accounting plans and revenue streams. She helped us stay on track, organized, and feel confident in the decisions we were making. As college students we were very intimidated starting our own business, VtSBDC helped us understand the world we were stepping into and we are much more confident as we take off.
The Starting Point: What steps did you take to bring your business to where it is today?
Bianca: We (Georgia Grace and I) became entrepreneurs when we started sewing pants on our dorm room floors. We learned a great deal from the Middlebury College Center for Social Entrepreneurship and Middlebury Entrepreneurs Jterm course We both worked at Goldman Sachs which helped us understand professional, fast-paced working environments. We mulled over the SheFly idea while we were there, an idea conceived by Georgia Grace when she worked as a glacier guide on the Mendenhall glacier in Alaska in 2016. VtSBDC helped connect us to financial counselors, lawyers, Vermont Center for Emerging Technologies, and many other organizations and events. Sarah held my hand as I began to think about all of the pieces that fit together to create a business. Without an official business background, I personally had very little idea of what we needed in order to make the business thrive. Without Sarah’s hand holding, we wouldn’t be where we are today. Get yourself a Vermont SBDC counselor! They will go to bat for you and provide as much useful information as they’re able.
Students and young entrepreneurs aren’t the only ones benefiting from relationships with VtSBDC and other community partners.
“I am so grateful to be working with motivated students and recent graduates. I love their energy, enthusiasm, and openness to learning,” Sarah explains. “It is tremendously rewarding when we can connect our young VtSBDC clients with community partners who can help them launch and grow. And I am always delighted when they take advantage of all the many resources VtSBDC offers online and off.”
“Our students and young entrepreneurs are the future of Vermont,“ said Linda Rossi, VtSBDC State Director. “Our goal is to introduce them to VtSBDC’s advisors, tools, and partners early on. Whether they moved to Vermont for school or are lifelong residents, we look forward to providing them with supportive resources they can turn to in the future. We want them to know that Vermont is a great place to do business, and that they are not in business by themselves.”
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