Smith Entrepreneurs See
By Jan McCoy Ebbets
Budding entrepreneur Anna Miller '10 has plenty
of ideas for starting her own business. One of those involves farming, raising goats
and producing handcrafted goat cheese, an idea she intends to develop more fully
In the meantime, her business plan for Bella Goat Cheese
earned her a $500 award in a regional entrepreneurship competition last spring. Miller,
a psychology major with a studio art minor, was among a growing cadre of college
students in western Massachusetts who were honored in 2009 by the Harold Grinspoon
Charitable Foundation's Entrepreneurship Initiative for demonstrating "entrepreneurial
Like Miller, more and more college students are considering
entrepreneurship, according to national studies. Rather than trying to make difficult
career choices in volatile economic times, many are designing their own jobs or start-up
Among women, entrepreneurship has grown at a fast pace.
Between 1997 and 2006, the number of majority women-owned businesses increased 42
percent, according to the Center for Women's Business Research.
At Smith, those with entrepreneurial ambitions have
a starting point with the Women and Financial Independence Program (WFI). There,
René Heavlow, assistant director of the program, and Susannah Howe, director
of the design clinic and lecturer in the Picker Engineering Program, are the go-to
people for support and guidance on such things as fine-tuning business ideas,
searching out funding, writing a business plan or executive summary and connecting
with the right resources.
They not only mentor but also run a lunchtime lecture
series for students each semester. The E* Initiatives offer information sessions
and bring guest speakers to campus. "We're reaching a lot of students this
way who are most interested and engaged in entrepreneurship," says Heavlow.
Smith student participation in events and competitions
sponsored by the Springfield, Massachusetts-based Grinspoon Foundation is also
a reflection of Heavlow's and Howe's mentoring.
This November, 12 Smith women were some of the 500 attendees—90
percent of them college students—who attended the fifth annual Grinspoon, Garvey & Young
Entrepreneurship Conference: The Art of the Start. The event brought together students
and faculty from more than a dozen colleges and universities in the region to network
and to learn about the business aspects of entrepreneurial ambition and the process
The conference is a nice opportunity "for students
to network in a supportive environment and make connections with other students and
faculty advisers from area schools," notes Howe, who along with Heavlow accompanied
the students to the daylong gathering. The Grinspoon Foundation subsidized the $125
per-student attendance fee.
Several Smith students who have launched successful
entrepreneurial businesses made presentations at the conference, including Rachel
Besserman GR '10, co-owner with Damon Blanchette, of Emmet's
Essentials, an online retail company that offers private-label organic baby
and body care products, and Katherine Rettew '11, founder of KTR2, a business
producing handmade beaded jewelry. (Rettew is currently on a yearlong leave from
It is no coincidence that they follow a trail
already blazed by Smith students and alumnae who have designed and grown their own
businesses, supported by WFI resources.
"Entrepreneurs are smart, creative, passionate
problem-solvers," notes Howe. "And a lot of Smithies are smart, creative,
Women's colleges tend to attract a very competitive
and driven student base, Heavlow says.
"And it's here at Smith, with its liberal arts
education, that students can develop a strong confidence and broad breadth of knowledge
that is put to good use in the entrepreneurial experience," Howe says.
Helping first-time entrepreneurs make connections
to the right resources is a role Heavlow and Howe take seriously. Anna Miller turned
to them as she devised an idea for Bella Goat Cheese.
Indeed, Bella Goat Cheese is the result of Miller's
work on numerous New England farms over the years and her passion for self-sustainable
agriculture, humane treatment of animals and environmental responsibility. "In
about seven years, I will have my own farm in New England," she predicts.
But in the short term, she wants to build a business
that reflects her growing passion for nature photography and documentary journalism,
rooted in a 2009 summer internship as a photographer at a daily newspaper. She is
preparing a proposal for the 2010 Grinspoon Entrepreneurship Initiative competition.
For the many students like Miller, who are considering
entrepreneurial projects to come, what's next?
An elevator pitch competition will be held in April
at an annual entrepreneurship banquet among participating area colleges that include
American International, Hampshire, the University of Massachusetts and Smith.