“Our mission is to ensure vibrancy of our existing businesses and new business in Windham Region,” said BDCC executive director Adam Grinold. “But much of what we do is networking.”
For entrepreneurs, Grinold said that there were many ways in which networking was important. “We need to create a climate for entrepreneurs to exist and we are doing that by helping them find points of contact with other entrepreneurs, businesses, and nonprofits, not just our organization.”
One example of a company that has benefited from the type of networking that Grinold talked about is Wheel Pad, based in Wilmington. Wheel Pad’s goal is “to build a socially-conscious, environmentally-friendly company that provides transitional housing for people newly using wheelchairs,” allowing “friends and/or family to provide support until permanent accessible housing can be arranged.” Last year Wheel Pad won an award from Fresh Tracks Road Pitch, which, according to Grinold, comprises a group of investors who visit Vermont towns on their motorcycles, and listen to hopeful entrepreneurs make a short pitch about their company. The group came to Brattleboro as part of a collaboration between Strolling of the Heifers and the BDCC.
Julie Lineberger, president of Wheel Pad, said the award led to networking opportunities that she had not foreseen. “It is very important to have a community of other people who know about what Wheel Pad is doing who are inspired to support our goals. The Road Pitch folks have continually offered advice and suggestions of others to contact regarding patents, marketing, intellectual property protection, lease and sales agreements, et cetera. This support creates a short cut to finding and networking with people who are helping me to go from an idea to an actual launch. For example, a professor at Norwich University heard my pitch to raise funds to build the prototype and immediately connected me with the architecture and project management professors who are now overseeing their students as they construct our first prototype.”
The company was named by SeVEDS as “a vital project.” Laura Sibilia, director of economic and workforce development, said the designation of vital status for a project is conferred by a board made up of people from business, nonprofits, and education as well as members of the chamber of commerce.
“Being named a vital project by SeVEDS added a bit of legitimacy to Wheel Pad. Decision makers are oftentimes skeptical of unproven startups. With this vetted designation, people realize Wheel Pad L3C is committed to bringing Wheel Pad to those in need as well as creating jobs in southeastern Vermont.”
Fresh Tracks Road pitch will be back in Brattleboro on August 2.
According to R.T. Brown, Windham County Economic Development Program Project Manager, another way that SeVEDS tries to support entrepreneurs is by facilitating conversations among their peers. The INSTIG8 program seeks to “foster a safe environment for creative entrepreneurs to try, fail, learn, build, explore, and connect to other like-minded individuals while developing their business concepts and models.” As part of that effort, Brown said that his organization was holding a biweekly networking coffee event. “We will be at the Cotton Mill in Brattleboro, at suite A251, on July 19. We are also looking for places and suggestions of times to meet in the Deerfield Valley,” Brown said.
Another focus for SeVEDS, according to Alex Beck, workforce and education specialist, is to help retain and attract young professionals to the region. He said that Michelle Mazur, membership director at the Southern Vermont Deerfield Valley Chamber of Commerce, had been working with SeVEDS on various programs to aid this effort. “Being out in Windham County, there is not really a social night life. We want to give people a chance to collaborate, socialize, and network. In any big city, there are more opportunities and events.” Beck said that last year, a group of young professionals came to Wilmington for the Soup Stroll, part of the Wine and Harvest Festival, and this year there would be another sponsored trip to the September event. Mazur said she had helped organize a workshop for young professional apartment dwellers on container gardening, with a trip to Whetstone Station afterward. She also said she was working on an event at Adams Farm in Wilmington on July 25 as well as a field day in August that would include music and possibly camping at Hidden Acres in Dummerston. She also hoped that there would be a house-buying workshop for young professionals, in the fall.
Another new project that Beck is working on is the Business Cluster Roundtable Initiative, which, according to materials provided at the meeting on Tuesday, will include meetings to discuss “workforce recruitment, internships and apprenticeships, and sustainable workforce programming,” especially as they relates to hospitality and tourism in the bitown region.
People seeking information on SeVEDS or any of these programs can call (802) 257-7731.