NEW PROGRAM OFFERS KICK-START TO ENTREPRENEURIAL VENTURES

By Derek Carson, This story originally appeared in the Bennington Banner

 Participants in Bennington's inaugural Ice House Entrepreneurial Program pose for a picture in the mobile photo booth of Joseph Kuhlman, one of the program's participants.

Participants in Bennington's inaugural Ice House Entrepreneurial Program pose for a picture in the mobile photo booth of Joseph Kuhlman, one of the program's participants.

BENNINGTON — A new entrepreneurship program, created as a collaboration between several local entities, celebrated the conclusion of its successful first semester on Monday.

The program is currently named after curriculum it is based upon, the Ice House Entrepreneurship Program, which was created the Ohio-based Entrepreneurial Learning Initiative.

The eight-week class was facilitated by JJ Williams of Williams Financial, who also chairs the project's steering committee. The purpose of the program is to "create an entry point and entrepreneurial mindset educational platform for area residents to foster the entrepreneurial ecosystem and grow the local economy," according to the program proposal, which was agreed upon by the committee in September.

Williams said that he launched an Ice House program in the Capital District with the help of Hudson Valley Community College and other community partners four years ago. "We've launched 25, 35 companies over there," he said. He spoke with Bill Colvin of the Bennington County Regional Commission about putting a similar program into operation in Bennington.

"He said that this sounds like a thing that we need, basically for on-boarding for entrepreneurs in the area," said Williams. "It's kind of all scattered now, we were trying to create one place where people can go. Then, once they go through this program, we can figure out what support mechanism that need."

The other members of the steering committee are Colvin and Jonathan Cooper of, Nicole Stetson, of the Community College of Vermont's Bennington campus, Dimitri Garder of The Lightning Jar, Jeb Gorham of Southern Vermont College, and Matt Harrington of the Bennington Area Chamber of Commerce.

"It is an experiential learning program designed to inspire and engage participants in the fundamental aspects of entrepreneurial thought and process," according to documentation created by the steering committee. "The deliverables at the end of the course are a business model canvas and a personal vision statement. These are designed to help launch the participant's idea within a short time frame. The program uses mixed media, writing, and hands-on case studies in an effort to drive the participant's ideas directly to the potential market."

Eight students presented their entrepreneurial ideas at the Lightning Jar on Monday evening. The class was split between CCV and the Lightning Jar but will be taught out of the Lightning Jar moving forward. The committee plans to run the class each college semester, and discussions have begun with local colleges to have the course count for credit.

In order to take part in the program, participants complete a program application that includes the reason for attending the program as well as their anticipated idea or business. Both aspiring and existing small business owners may be accepted into the program. Participants are selected by the steering committee, with the primary criteria for selection based on potential readiness to launch after the program. Sessions will be capped at 17 participants. Each participant is expected to pay $395 for the session, which includes all course materials, but some scholarship funds are available. Those interested in participating in the spring semester, which begins Feb. 5, should contact Cooper at jcooper@bcrcvt.org or 802-442-0713 ext. 312.

Of the participants who presented their projects on Monday, some were close to being ready to launch their businesses, with websites registered and ready to go and business models and prices finalized, while other still needed to do some more work. Many had pivoted away from ideas that they determined wouldn't work out, which Williams said was a key component of the class, which included lots of collaboration, brainstorming, and sharing of resources. The project ideas ranged from food products, to photography studios, to housing projects, to consulting for nuclear power plant decommissioning.

Derek Carson can be reached at dcarson@benningtonbanner.com, at @DerekCarsonBB on Twitter and 802-447-7567, ext. 122.