Burlington business incubator teaches student entrepreneurs at Middlebury College

The Middlebury Entrepreneurs class went to Burton to meet the snowboard company leaders and team members.Photo credit: Middlebury Innovation Hub

Thirteen Middlebury College students spend the January semester learning about entrepreneurship at the Vermont Center for Emerging Technologies, a business incubator in Burlington.

To be eligible, each student must have their own business to advertise. According to VCET President David Bradbury, about a third of the students in this year’s class are already making money.

Bradbury and Vice President Sam Roach-Gerber are teaching the course, now in its ninth year.

One of the students, James Heath, is building a website called Dormplex that allows students to offer goods and services to others on campus. Sophomore Heath said Tuesday that he and his partner plan to launch a beta version of the website this week at his college in Claremont, Calif., before he starts in Middlebury in February. . (One of his partners he attends Pitzer College, his one of seven Claremont Colleges.)

Heath said he hopes the class will teach him some of the foundations of building a company.

As part of the course, students will go on field trips and work on business plans. Bradbury said they are taught how to sell, account, price and raise money. This course includes guest appearances from venture capitalists and other entrepreneurs.

Ultimately, students decide whether or not to pursue their own business while in college, Bradbury says, and about a third of students stay in it.

One of the concepts he and Roach-Gerber teach students is customer discovery, says Bradbury.

“That means going out and talking to someone who isn’t your roommate, your mother, or your teammate,” he said. They need to prove that their idea is an opportunity, one that can be repeatably profitable and scalable to support the team.

Bradbury said VCET helps companies start businesses at up to six colleges in the state, but he considers Middlebury the best entrepreneurial campus in Vermont.

“They have been focused on student creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship for over a decade,” he said. “It’s an unexpected place for entrepreneurial energy.”

Students attend an annual dinner with the founders at Elizabeth and James Robinson’s home in Weybridge.Photo credit: Middlebury Innovation Hub

Heath, from Detroit, agreed. “I think he’s probably one of the best places in the country,” he said.

Middlebury launched its first entrepreneurial program about 15 years ago, says Heather Neuwirth Lovejoy, director of Middlebury’s Innovation Hub. She said the university offers courses, mentorship, funding and space for student entrepreneurs.

“It’s a really great way to show students what Vermont can offer,” she said of the January course.

One notable entrepreneur from Middlebury is Corinne Prevot, founder of Skida, a Burlington ski hat company. She grew her company while in Middlebury, but Bradbury said she didn’t take his course.

Senior Sophie Hyland, who makes faux-fur hoods for Over Easy, uses the space available in Middlebury’s Old Stone Mill to run her company. She took the Entrepreneurship Course last January.

“It was really valuable to get together with other students and mentors to actually discuss the challenges and empathize,” she said.

Hyland, who grew up in Chicago’s North Shore suburb, said he was unlikely to stay in Vermont and run a company after graduation. She plans to move to New York to concentrate on her primary education work. But she said she plans to continue with Over Easy in the future.

VCET President David Bradbury teaches the January Entrepreneurship Course at Middlebury College.Photo credit: Middlebury Innovation Hub

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