Driving it forward: Energy, inspiration, and persistence fuel Burlington Trolley Tours
4 minute read

Excitement is building around the upcoming opening of Burlington Trolley Tours, an 18-month journey defined by partners Hannington Kasagga, Barbara Asiimwe, and Catherine Turyamureeba as a pivotal “learning experience.” 

After migrating to the U.S. and moving to Vermont where they became friends at their workplace, the three colleagues wanted to do something on their own. They soon realized that combining their individual strengths had the potential for powerful results: Barbara’s background in financial management; Catherine’s experience in marketing and tourism; Hannington’s training in business management; and their collective experience in the hospitality industry. Together, they began with a spark of an idea in early 2022 and put their plan into action seven months later. Hannington and Barbara shared that the road has not been easy, but they have not been alone in bringing their dream into reality.

The idea began when Hannington lived in Savannah, GA where he saw how trolley tours enhanced the visitor experience. He later saw a need in Burlington for this amenity, and many in the community expressed a need for things to do in Burlington. Colleagues Barbara and Catherine were on board to take the next steps. However, when they reached out to an area bank, they were told they did not have enough experience to qualify for funding. Barbara said, “We felt broken, but we rose up again, and thought carefully about what to do next.”

Needing guidance to develop a business plan, become an LLC, and move their concept forward, the trio contacted the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) Vermont district office who introduced them to Center for Women and Enterprise, home of Vermont’s Women’s Business Center, specifically Gwen Pokalo Hart, Vice President Policy, and Faye Longo, Community Navigator Pilot Program (CNPP) project manager. Gwen and Faye sprang into action, making connections for everything from overnight parking options to introducing the team to bankers and other service providers. Gwen and Faye consulted with CNPP spoke Vermont Law and Graduate School (VLGS) to determine if there were any rules and regulations they needed to be aware of.

Burlington Trolley Tours’ story demonstrates the cooperative and collaborative aspect of the Community Navigator Pilot Program. “These partners were able to seamlessly move between and within organizations to get the support that they needed to develop their ideas into a funded business with regional reach,” said Sara Munro, Community Navigator Pilot Program Coordinator. “It also comes down to people knowing each other – business owners and service providers – meeting face to face, getting to trust each other, and building a working relationship in which everyone jumps hurdles together, own the challenges, and celebrates the successes.”

Hannington, Barbara, and Catherine met with business coach Pacifique Nsengiyumva of spoke organization, Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity (CVOEO), and attended Lunch with Lenders, last February. The CVOEO-facilitated Community Navigator event brought together business owners and potential business owners, lenders, and business support service providers to explore Vermont’s traditional commercial lending and banking options, as well as non-traditional lending through revolving loans and community capital organizations. 

“At this point in our journey, we saw that we could do it,” explained Hannington. “The whole experience has taught us patience. Gwen and Faye provided the training that we needed and gave us the confidence to express our qualifications and show the community what we can do.”

“We realized early on that with their work schedules, Hannington, Barbara, and Catherine would not be able to attend our regular business planning classes,” said Faye. “With CNPP funding, we were able to provide one-on-one service and personalized attention. They were able to complete a business plan, develop their financials, and connect with many of the CNPP spoke organizations. This was truly a collaborative effort to see Burlington Trolley Tours come to fruition.”

“Gwen and Faye are often more excited than we are,” Barbara adds. “They are willing to go all the way to make connections, move forward, and help.”

Reservations and tickets for the June opening are already available online for tours on the first sparkling new trolley currently in production. Based on the Burlington Trolley tours website, the trolley offers an experience to guests by providing a unique comfortable tour of the beautiful places in Vermont like Lake Champlain, UVM, Church Street, Battle Monuments, covered bridges, Burlington Bike Paths, Maple Farms, Ben & Jerry’s, Shelburne Museum, Breweries, and more.

The driver (who just happens to be Hannington) will point out local attractions, share fun facts, and recommend great places to eat, see or visit. Catherine is the designated storyteller and tour guide, and in the future, Barbara will also be a driver.

They can also provide unique private charters that include weddings, corporate outings, brewery crawls, foliage leaf tours, holiday light tours or other celebrations. 

Thanks to the Vermont Community Loan Fund, a mission-driven alternative lender, the team had the funding to purchase the first trolley. They plan to purchase an additional trolley by next year, and add another the year after that. 

“Everyone who learns about us feels and shows excitement that pushes us forward,” said Hannington.

Catherine, who will soon leave her current position to focus on the business full time, said she has found the process “exhilarating,” and she is looking forward to devoting all of her attention to Burlington Trolley Tours.

“We thank Gwen, Faye, and the Community Navigator Pilot Program for all they have done,” concluded Hannington. “We are grateful to Gwen and Faye for their input, guidance, support, and persistence. We could not have done this without them!”

CNPP is funded (in part) through a grant with the U.S. Small Business Administration.

Learn more at www.vtsbdc.org/find-cnpp/.