Entrepreneurs launch farm, forest firms

MIDDLEBURY — About 115 people attended the third annual Financing the Working Landscape Conference, which is designed to connect entrepreneurs with capital and service providers, at the American Legion last week. The Nov. 7 event drew people from throughout the state and from neighboring states.
The draw, said Robin Scheu, executive director of the Addison County Economic Development Corp. (ACEDC), was the presentation of “practical and useful information as well as networking opportunities.”
“There is no other conference like this offered in Vermont,” Scheu said. “Each year we’ve put this on, someone has said, ‘Gee, it would be great if this conference could be replicated around the state,’ but no organization has done so elsewhere. That’s partly why I believe entrepreneurs come to our conference from further away each year.”
Throughout the daylong event, business owners and entrepreneurs learn about resources they may not know about when they’re looking for capital, or discover new sources of technical assistance. The conference also includes “real life stories” through the case studies, entrepreneur showcase, and the challenge presentations done by a handful of start-up businesses.
The conference focuses on those entrepreneurs in the areas of farm, food, forest, and forest products (also renewable energy insofar as it relates to growing things such as switchgrass and other biomass). It pertains to those just beginning an operation, as well as established businesses that want to grow and are not sure where to turn or how to expand.
Looking ahead to next year’s conference, Scheu said she hopes to bring back “a match-making opportunity where individual entrepreneurs can speak directly, and a bit more privately, with capital providers about their own capital needs and get some advice.
“We’d also love to see more forest/forest products folks attend. That’s always been a struggle,” she said, attributing it to conflicts with the workday.
“But if people are interested in the conference material and cannot attend, they can contact ACEDC or ACORN (Addison County Relocalization Network) and we can help or refer them to the appropriate place as needed,” Scheu added. “We also have some information on our website, and we filmed parts of the conference via MCTV (Middlebury Community Television) and that will be available in the coming weeks.”
The conference, Scheu said, is meant to achieve three broad goals: increase knowledge of who to go to for capital needs and technical assistance; create new ideas for how to make business grow; and foster new thinking about how capital and service providers can better serve entrepreneurs.
The hope, Scheu said, is that many new business owners “come away with new ideas and energy for their own businesses.”
“I also think word has spread that this is a good conference at a great value,” Scheu added. “We try to make it a little different each year and people keep coming back. There’s clearly a need.”

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