Dara Zink says women’s safety has always been near and dear to her heart. So she took an entrepreneurship class—with no previous experience starting a business—and launched a women’s self-defense program in Bennington.

Zink was one of the first to participate in the Ice House Entrepreneurship class, which will be adapted this fall at CCV-Bennington and delivered as a two-course series called Start-Up 802. The offering is the result of a community-wide effort to cultivate the ideas and talents of local residents, and ultimately address the need for economic development in the area. Bennington County Regional Commission’s Jonathan Cooper describes the model as “economic gardening.”

Alongside CCV, more than half a dozen entities including the Chamber of Commerce, Southern Vermont College, The Lightning Jar, the Small Business Development Center, and others, came together to develop the program. Cooper says that the collaboration “is very much about growing what we have, the capacity of the people that we have, and demonstrating to the broader region outside the Bennington area that something’s cooking here.”

CCV-Bennington Coordinator of Academic Services Nicole Stetson is on the project’s steering committee. She spoke about the power, and the necessity, of the partnerships that are bringing the idea to life. “The only way that this program will be effective and sustainable is if it continues to be a wide community collaborative effort. This is in response to a community need. It touches lots of different stakeholders, and there’s a lot of interest in using and promoting entrepreneurship as an arm of economic development.”

JJ Williams of Williams Financial convened the group of partners and facilitated the first offering of the course last fall. He says the program delivers in two big ways. One is that students have access to a network of experts in multiple fields, as well as a network of peers. The other is that students gain confidence. “To most people, the word ‘entrepreneur’ means Mark Zuckerberg or Steve Jobs. They make up less than 1% of the entrepreneurial community. There are a lot of myths about being an entrepreneur,” he says, such as the idea that you need money to make money. “Eroding those myths is important, so that people can say to themselves, ‘I can do this.’”

Stetson agrees that the program can provide a huge boost to students, no matter where they are when they start. “Our hope is that they’re launching, or are close to launching a business by the end of the semester, and are connecting with the resources in our community to help move their ideas forward.”

The second iteration of the class took place this spring at The Lightning Jar and was taught by Robert Braathe, an instructor at several area colleges and founder of Braathe Enterprises, a Saratoga Springs-based company that provides project management and business support services. He says the course is customizable, and is easily adapted to fit the needs of the students in any given class. “Even though there’s a set curriculum, each week’s session is really tailored toward the needs of the group. It really will depend on the nature of the ideas, the size of the class…which makes it fun for me, too.”

Students don’t need to come into the class with a business idea, or a business background. In fact, Cooper says the variety of experience levels of previous participants is a good indicator of the program’s value. “To see that the notion of entrepreneurship is compelling across all of these demographic and social segments gave us a feeling that we’re bringing something that we need to have around here.”

CCV is the perfect partner for this project, say both Cooper and Williams. “For me, economic development starts with community development, and that starts with education,” says Williams, noting that the College’s statewide presence will hopefully allow the program to expand beyond Bennington County.

This fall at CCV, “Start-up 802: An Entrepreneurial Mindset” will be offered as a one-credit course using the Ice House curriculum, and will be followed by “Entrepreneurship: New Topics in Business Venturing,” a three-credit course. Southwestern Vermont Medical Center has donated $1000 in scholarships to local high school students for the fall semester.

The Lightning Jar will host an open house about the program next Wednesday, August 8th at 5:30, with instructors and financial aid counselors available to answer questions.

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