New London ― Gary St. Vil is an engineer who entered Entrepreneur Academy with the idea of creating a group home, but ended up with a plan for a chef’s table in which a chef and sommelier serve 16 people in one seat per night.
It’s called Bon Vivant Fine Cuisine.
The Ledyard resident said while it “seems like a pivot”, it’s really about following another passion and realizing through mentorship that an idea he didn’t think was viable might be.
“They’ve already poured more into me than I can imagine,” St. Vil said of the Eastern Connecticut Chamber of Commerce and its Entrepreneur Academy partners. He said the class was like “drinking from a fire hose,” but he goes back and goes over each class’s information.
Earlier this summer, the chamber launched the 8-week Entrepreneur Academy, a program that met weekly at no cost to participants, who range from aspiring business owners like St. Vil to people who own established businesses. , such as Lashes by Lee and Progression Training.
On Friday evening, the chamber held a trade show-style ‘demonstration day’ at the Thames Club, during which around 15 participants pitched their businesses and plans to other business people, potential investors and members of the community.
Participants could vote for their favorite company, and the top three received cash prizes.
Christine Kulos said she and husband Tim started ‘everywhere’ but ended up with T&C Recycling & Cleanouts, a waste and debris removal company, and the Norwich couple plan to save the business soon. Christine is a social worker at Safe Futures while Tim is a self-employed and “hands-on” handyman who already recycles scrap metal on the side.
At the other end of the spectrum is Tai Au, who already co-owns three businesses: Pink Basil and Samurai Noodle Bar at Mystic, and Spice Club at Niantic. But she plans to launch a new business next year, one that would provide 100% plant-based meal kits.
Au says she joined Entrepreneur Academy because she likes to improve her knowledge and learn, and she wanted more information on who to contact if she needed more investment.
Groton’s Demetria Young started Buttacup’s, selling herbal teas and natural products, at the height of the pandemic, starting by making elderberry candy to boost her daughter’s immune system.
Demo Day has attracted other business owners, such as Felicia Stevens, who earlier this year closed The Drunken Palette art studio next door after 12 years in business – the pandemic has dealt her blow after blow – but opened Green Ribbon Counseling last month.
“We should always support local businesses and entrepreneurs,” Stevens said. She offered advice to budding entrepreneurs from her experience and noted that public speaking is something people can work on.
Other attendees included Paul Lavoie, state manufacturing manager, and Paul Whitescarver, executive director of the Southeast Connecticut Enterprise Region.
Lavoie noted that new business start-ups have increased 400% since the pandemic as people have focused more on what they are passionate about, and that his team is working with CTNext to help entrepreneurs move from “towel to commercialization “. Whitescarver said seCTer participates in the Connecticut Small Business Boost Fund for low-interest loans and is soon launching a grant program for entrepreneurs.
Mayor Michael Passero also welcomed participants. House Speaker Tony Sheridan said Friday the pilot program had about 42 original sign-ups and about 17 people stuck it out for the eight weeks.
Sheridan said earlier this summer that the aim of the program was to prevent businesses from failing and the idea going forward was to ensure that the Entrepreneur Academy continues to operate at the Thames River Innovation Center , the chamber’s future headquarters in New London.
The Entrepreneur Academy coordinator was Rosemary Ostfeld, a professor at Wesleyan University and founder of the startup Healthy PlanEat.
The group met weekly at the New London Public Library, with each session including a presentation on topics such as identifying a target market, accessing capital, and pitching an idea ― and a discussion with a local business owner.
Educators included people from the regional chapter of SCORE, Connecticut Women’s Business Development Council and CTNext, while people from Ivy’s Simply Homemade, Flock Theater and Waterford Hotel Group were among those sharing their experiences.