Entry to Entrepreneurship
“Presenting the business plan I developed during Entry to Entrepreneurship was one of the most empowering things I have ever done,” says Elizabeth Orenstein, 24, who graduated from the program in April with fourteen other young people. Entry to Entrepreneurship, presented by BerkShares, Inc. in partnership with the Massachusetts Small Business Development Center Network and hosted by Berkshire Community College’s South County Center, offers participants the chance to learn how to write a business plan from members of our own community.
Elizabeth sums it up: “It takes you through planning a business—from getting inspired by real business owners to learning the nuts and bolts of accounting—and then culminates in writing a business plan and presenting it to the community.” Hearing from the business owners themselves opens the students’ eyes to the challenges and rewards of entrepreneurship. Elizabeth, who wrote a plan for a beeswax candle-making company, says the program instilled in her a “huge amount of respect” for local business owners, and also introduced her to the tools she would need to start a business.
Along with a strong backbone of business education Entry to Entrepreneurship has a sharp focus on the local economy, asking students to imagine and write about businesses that fill “import replacement” opportunities in the Berkshires. When the program kicks off for its third year this January 25th it will do so with a lesson about the importance of local ownership and a presentation from Maddie Elling and Abe Hunrichs, owners of BerkShares business Hosta Hill, makers of the kimchi and sauerkraut found in markets throughout the Berkshires.
The local economy theme is sustained through the program, which concludes with the showcase event where students present their plans and receive awards of 200 BerkShares each. This year’s event is scheduled for Wednesday, April 12th, at 5:30 pm at Dewey Hall. Everyone is invited.
“I will never forget the graph you put up the first day,” Elizabeth says. “It showed where your money goes if you spend it at an independent store versus a chain store. It was a shocking statistic to see.” Zoe Becker, who also graduated in April, adds, “We need to rely on our neighbors and our friends, not just far-away places. Yes, there are certain things that we can’t produce here, but it’s important to make sure that we have all the necessary tools to mesh into a solid economic being.”
As a freshman last year, Zoe was among the youngest in a classroom that included students ages 13 – 23 and mentors and presenters of all ages. “It helped to have such a multigenerational classroom. Adultism is something we face in our society, so to know that everyone there is on the journey together adds a whole new level of respect.” She felt her age most acutely when it came to presenting her business idea—a multicultural restaurant—at the end of the program. “At first I thought I’d be terrified, but the fact that people were listening to us and applauding our ideas gave me confidence.”
Elizabeth puts in a final plug for the program: “It’s engaging and fun. But you also get seed money!” She says the 200 BerkShares symbolize something larger—a real commitment from this community to its young people. She has not spent her BerkShares yet; she’s waiting until she finishes her undergraduate degree. In the meantime, she says, she can continue working on her business plan, knowing all along that there is “this amazing little nugget of support that’s just waiting for me.”
This year's program has been made possible by sponsorship from the following:
As well as: The Turkeybush Foundation, The Elitzer Family Foundation, Nancy Fitzpatrick & Lincoln Russell, The Triplex Cinema, Hellman, Shearn, & Arienti LLP, Ameriprise Financial, Shaker Mill Books, and Keith & Aldonna Girouard.