Business ideas emerge from CCV classroom

Hannah Strohmaier discusses her business plan at the Small Business Showcase event held Wednesday at the Community College of Vermont in Bennington.

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BENNINGTON — Local entrepreneurs, many in the early stages of planning their businesses, gathered at the Community College of Vermont Wednesday evening to present their ideas that came out of the seven-week "An Entrepreneurial Mindset" class.

Eight students, ranging from one high-schooler to multiple college students and adults, participated in the course, which helps entrepreneurs of all ages turn their ideas into a business plan and learn the proper steps to make their business dreams a reality.

"It's such a nice mix," said Robert Braathe, who teaches "An Entrepreneurial Mindset."

The class began Sept. 5 at The Lightning Jar and is offered through CCV. It is part of the Startup 802 program, which consists of classes that encourage entrepreneurship and local business startups. These classes are held under the umbrella of the Ice House Entrepreneurship Program.

The students will advance to another seven-week class called "Entrepreneurship: New Topics in Business Venturing" taught by CCV adjunct professor Elaine Haytko beginning Oct. 31. This class will build on topics taught by Braathe and help the entrepreneurs solidify their business plans.

On March 14, 2019, students will be able to highlight their progress in another showcase, Braathe said.

Turning ideas into businesses

Four years ago, Hannah Strohmaier was so sick, she spent months alone in her room and couldn't help but think about all of the things she could not accomplish because of her debilitating illness.

In 2015, Strohmaier was diagnosed with Crohn's, a chronic and painful disease that affects the digestive tract and severely limits what people can eat. After this diagnosis, Strohmaier was able to identify what was making her sick and start to get better. She also decided that she wanted to contribute to others experiencing similar problems, so she began thinking of a plan to open a local bakery or cafe that caters to those with restricted diets.

"I didn't want people to feel as alone as I did," she said.

As many with dietary restrictions know, alternative food options are not only scarce but can be expensive.

"There are hardly any options locally," she said, mentioning that there are only a few select cafes and "like two aisles at Hannaford's" she can eat from.

Not only would the cafe offer "healthy foods available to people like me," she said, she wants to try to make the location as close to downtown as possible for accessibility.

Strohmaier's adviser at CCV urged her to take Braathe's class — "and here we are, at week seven," she said excitedly.

"All in all, this class has helped me fine-tune my business plan and help me figure out what I want to do and what I don't want to do," she said.

She still needs to fine-tune her idea a bit more and research the legal and financial aspects of the business, "but I have the general idea down," she said. She hopes to soon figure out a name for the business and research potential locations.

Roberta Stange says Braathe's class gave her the "extra push" she needed to further her business, Bass Girl.

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There are tons of fishing T-shirts, accessories, and decals geared toward men, but hardly any for women, Stange said.

That's why she started Bass Girl. An avid angler herself, Stange wanted to offer accessories for other women and girls who love the sport as much as she does. Currently she offers items like shirts, hats, and decals.

Her next step is to launch the company and "see where it goes." Eventually, she hopes to offer more products and color options when her business becomes more established.

"The class was awesome," Stange said. "It gave me the extra push I needed."

Steve Ganier and Jonathan O'Brien entered the class wondering how they could bring healthier, more affordable options to Bennington, and after seven weeks they were ready to present their idea for "Healthy Habits:" a smoothie bar that would also serve protein shakes, smoothie bowls, and other healthy snack options.

At the beginning of the class, Ganier and O'Brien collaborated with Strohmaier since their ideas were similar, but as their ideas developed and morphed into more concrete ideas they opted to work on separate ventures. However, they said they would be happy to collaborate with her in the future.

They both had rave reviews for Braathe's class.

"I feel like Robert gave us " started O'Brien.

"...a kick in the butt!" finished Ganier.

O'Brien added that Braathe gave them the motivation they needed to truly begin bringing their idea to fruition.

Like Strohmaier, O'Brien and Ganier have a fairly concrete idea of what they want the business to be, but will work on fine-tuning details during the next section of the course.

"We definitely have to look into the location," Ganier said.

O'Brien added that they must also research equipment and supply costs.

Other ideas presented at the showcase include a custom door company, a balloon company, a nonprofit to benefit women in impoverished companies, and a device designed for runners' safety.

J.J. Williams, CEO of Williams Financial, was the instructor of the first round of Icehouse classes held last year. He attended the event to take a look at the new ideas being presented.

"I think it's remarkable what Robert has been able to do with the program," Williams said. "For me, it's neat to see an event this large coming out of the third [round of classes]."

Christie Wisniewski can be reached at and at 802-447-7567, ext. 111.


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