Do You Entrepreneur: The Shires of Vermont Home to Start ups


Starting a business can be intimidating, overwhelming - even risky. But here in The Shires of Vermont, the prospect of entrepreneurship becomes much less daunting when you consider the community full of resources and support committed to helping you succeed.

With a wealth of guidance, training opportunities, and professional networks on the local, regional, and statewide levels, it’s no surprise that small businesses have a legacy in the Green Mountain state. Here in Bennington county, vibrant town and village centers including downtown Bennington, Manchester, and Arlington have long been lined with shops and services built the Vermont way—from the ground up. And with such close-knit communities nestled in these mountains and valleys, those businesses often find their most significant support from their own friends and neighbors.

Vermont as a whole has proven to be fertile ground for new businesses, ranking second in the nation on the Kauffman Foundation’s 2016 Index of Main Street Entrepreneurship for Smaller States and boasting homegrown ventures like Ben & Jerry’s, Keurig Green Mountain, Burton, and Orvis. Vermont also ranks number one on the Opportunity Index, with 23 percent of employment in the state stemming from small businesses (establishments with less than 20 workers), compared to the national average of 17 percent, according to the U.S. Census Bureau's Statistics of U.S. Businesses.

Vermont is very interesting as a small but entrepreneurial state - it must be our ingenuity and can-do attitude.  We rank in the Kauffman Report’s top ten for startup activity in smaller states, and New Hampshire ranks 24th. That’s interesting, and tells you something about the culture of Vermont.

We live in a place where people are very intentional about where they spend their dollars.  There’s a broad support for local businesses. In The Shires specifically, our bucolic landscape has proven to be an unexpected yet impactful boon to business development.

It’s often assumed that innovation only happens in cities; that a place needs to look like Silicon Valley to be suitable for entrepreneurship.  It’s simply not true. Rural areas like The Shires allow for greater access to decision makers, and that can make a huge difference in the success of an entrepreneur.

For entrepreneurs who utilize the resources provided by The Lightning Jar, the local coworking space, becomes even easier to find the help that you need to get your idea off of the ground.  The first phase of any new venture involves asking a lot of questions and, while it’s great to ask your friends and family, chances are they’re not experts on the subject. Here, you can talk to the folks that create policies and, chances are, those same folks are actively trying to help you succeed. You don’t get that same level of care and support in more urban areas.

The Lightning Jar works with entrepreneurs at any stage of their journey to connect them with venture capital funds and scope out their development, serving both beginners and late-stage business owners aiming to reach scale. The organization also runs programs on subjects like maintaining an online brand and asking for a pay raise, alongside coordinating social events through which local professionals can mingle and network.

Educational opportunities like Startup 802, a multi-week course offered through a collaboration between The Lightning Jar and the Community College of Vermont (CCV), also offer resources for entrepreneurs to strengthen their foundation before venturing into the world of business. On a broader scale, the BCRC has worked closely with the Bennington County Industrial Corporation (BCIC) to unite representatives from government, business, and more under a single steering committee to advance entrepreneurial activity and economic development.  Regional collaborations with Windham County to the East has helped the Shires to strengthen the Southern Vermont Economic Development Zone and led to the creation of a Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy (CEDS). Together, organizations from both regions work to tackle shared issues like youth retention while seeking support at both the state and federal levels.

That collaborative spirit doesn’t end at state lines, however, as entrepreneurs in The Shires benefit from their proximity to major metropolitan areas like Boston and New York City as well as the Berkshires, Albany, and more.

A high percentage of second-homeowners and retirees add to the external dollars in the region and dollars do make their way to The Shires from area like the Berkshires and Albany. Those spent and invested dollars don’t only go to “angel investor type of archetypes of entrepreneurship,” but also less traditional models like remote work or local businesses under new ownership.

Considering that the region regularly attracts events like weddings or vacations, business models focusing on a non-residential client base also find a plethora of growth potential. Remote work has also become popular among those who dream of Vermont’s beautiful scenery and quality of life—and the $10,000 incentive offered by Governor Phil Scott doesn’t hurt either.

There’s a lot of on-ramps because this doesn’t have to happen in one way - it has to start in your way, and you should be as prepared as possible.

That support also advances the economic, cultural, and social vibrancy of the region by facilitating bustling centers of business and fostering economic development. On a larger scale, the work being done by these local, regional, and state organizations serve a higher purpose as well: to ensure a strong future for The Shires of Vermont.

This is part of a larger featured article by the Chamber entitled: Entrepreneurship and Small Business Thrive in The Shires Due To Community written by award-winning journalist and writer Cherise Madigan.  Read full article.