Entry to Entrepreneurship program gives 'next generation' a place to cultivate ideas

GREAT BARRINGTON - Gisele Desjardins loved eating popsicles when she was growing up in Georgia. But her mother didn't like how the sugary treat's sticky sweetness affected Gisele when mixed with the heat prevalent in that area of the country.


So Desjardins and her mother came up with an alternative idea for her favorite snack: dairy free, sugar free, all organic fruit popsicles made with local ingredients.


After moving to Great Barrington six years ago, Desjardins found an avenue to develop her idea: The Entry for Entrepreneurship program. Entry to Entrepreneurship is a "crowd-sourced" business planning program for young adults between the ages of 14 and 25 that will begin its third year in January.


Desjardins was 14 when she participated in the initial program two years ago.


"I really enjoyed it," said Desjardins, who turns 16 on Nov. 24. "I was home schooled. Me and my mom were really attracted to it because a lot of schools don't teach entrepreneurial programs."


Entry for Entrepreneurship offers a forum that allows young people to learn the fundamental tools and considerations of business, guiding them through the process of constructing a business plan. Classes take place once a week for 10 weeks at Berkshire Community College's South County campus. Applications for the program's third year are being accepted through Friday, Dec. 16. Anyone in the proscribed age range interested in learning more about business is eligible to apply.


The curriculum was developed by BerkShares Inc. executive director Alice Maggio and Keith Girouard, the regional director of the Pittsfield office of the Massachusetts Small Business Development Center. It's part of a larger initiative known as Community Supported Industry, run under the auspices of both BerkShares Inc. and the Schumacher Center for a New Economics in Great Barrington. BerkShares, which is also a program of the Schumacher Center, is the county's local currency.


CSI builds on economic innovation in the Berkshires to engage county residents and producers in identifying opportunities to businesses that can produce needed goods and services locally. Maggio, the program's facilitator, said participants are asked to view their business ideas in a larger context.


"We don't go in and say, 'what's your passion?'" Maggio said. "We start from a broader perspective, to think more about the community."


Different members of the business community attend the classes each week. Four other members of the business community serve as mentors and act as "sounding boards" for the students, according to Maggio.



"Most of them have owned their own business or are retired," she said.


None of the business plans developed by the members of the first two classes of Entry to Entrepreneurship has turned into an actual business yet, although Maggio said some proposals are still being developed.


Erik Bruun, one of the principals in Great Barrington-based SoCo Creamery, served as a teacher in the program the year that Desjardin attended.


"It's a really great, impressive entrepreneurship program," said Bruun, who was a partner in the Berkshire Opportunity Fund, a local group of private investors, before going to SoCo Creamery. "It really supports people to think things through. It makes them really think through an idea and a process, whether or not you actually take your project to market," he said. "It gives them an opportunity to do things and take their ideas seriously."


Bruun helped Desjardins develop her idea for organic popsicles, and was so impressed that he offered her the use of SoCo Creamery's commercial kitchen to develop the product further. Desjardins and her mother are currently on a cross-country trip.


"Since we're traveling now, it's been put on hold until my mom and I get back in the early spring," said Desjardins, who spoke to The Eagle from New Mexico. She plans to call her business, "Power Pops."


"They don't have the sugar that gives you a high," she said.."You're getting the honey, the fresh fruits, the coconut cream and everything. It gives you more of a power boost."


Bruun called Desjardins "wise beyond her years" adding that her idea for organic fruit popsicles has potential.


"It's a terrific idea," Bruun said. "My 12-year-old daughter is a vegan. A fruit pop could be right up her alley."

Tony Dobrowolski can be reached at 413 496-6224.