Proposal: Entry to Entrepreneurship Toolkit
Proposal: “Fostering Community Entrepreneurship”
The Schumacher Center and BerkShares, Inc., are currently spearheading an initiative called Community Supported Industry, dedicated to catalyzing citizen engagement in regional economic development. Community Supported Industry empowers citizens to take responsibility and action to imagine, finance, mentor, and create markets for the new businesses in their region that will produce needed goods and services locally. This approach is inspired by the work of Jane Jacobs, who advocated for a strategy of “import replacement” and by E.F. Schumacher, who argued that the sanest and most responsible and just way to organize an economy is to maximize local production for local needs, while minimizing imports from faraway places.
To build an economy that looks like this, however, we need to overturn some well established ways of doing business. In our current system, an entrepreneur shoulders all the risk of starting a new business. In addition, he or she must spend time doing market research, securing an appropriate site, researching raw materials, prototyping products, and writing a business plan. But as we know, a small business does not thrive thanks only to a good business plan or a smart owner—it depends on a community to support it. In return, the success of a “beautiful business” in the midst of a community does not only benefit the owner, but also the whole neighborhood. The ripple effects of that business are hard to quantify. In fact, as the Preservation Trust of Vermont has pointed out, “many businesses, especially in […] rural areas, play an irreplaceable part in community life that isn’t captured in the daily sales transactions.”
How can citizens share some of the burden of the entrepreneurs who want to start businesses that will feed us, clothe us, house us, and bring us together? All of us have ideas about what products we would like to see made locally, what kind of businesses we would like to patronize downtown, and what kind of services might be missing from our local market. We all have skills and experience that could be useful to the entrepreneurs who might start these businesses. How can we capture those ideas, harness that knowledge, and galvanize communities to make those ideas into reality?
To address some of these questions, the Schumacher Center and BerkShares, Inc. have developed a business planning course for young people, ages 14 to 25, during which students draft their own business plans based on ‘import replacement’ ideas appropriate to our region. The class, known as Entry to Entrepreneurship, ties multiple generations together in a “crowd-sourced” course where local business people and professionals are the teachers and mentors to our next crop of entrepreneurs. At the end of the course the students present their concepts to the public and receive 200 BerkShares each to reward them for their work. Students can use this money, along with the connections they make during the course, to help them launch their business. If a student chooses not to launch his or her business, however, the plan is donated to a “library of good business plans” available to other residents of the Berkshires.
The Schumacher Center and BerkShares, Inc. piloted the Entry to Entrepreneurship in the winter of 2015 and are running the course again during the winter of 2016. We would like to share this innovative model, and the lessons we have learned while developing it, with other regions. To do so, we propose to publish a toolkit that includes the course’s theoretical background, curriculum, and course materials, so that other communities might imitate and adapt this approach to fostering community entrepreneurship.
A grant of $2,500 will allow us to dedicate time and resources to collecting, and editing the materials from our Entry to Entrepreneurship program into a format that would be easily accessible and useful to practitioners in other regions. Such a project requires one week of one staff person’s dedicated attention to writing and editing ($1,000), half a week of a professional graphic designer’s time ($250), as well as the costs of publishing ($1,250). This process would require two months’ time, starting in mid-April. The final product would be published in hard copy as well as in e-book form. The Schumacher Center and BerkShares, Inc. will employ their extensive email lists, as well as their press contacts, to share the book.