Community Barn Ventures helps new businesses hit their stride
MIDDLEBURY — Stacey Rainey and Mary Cullinane made their reputations working in major urban areas working for corporate colossi like Microsoft Corp.
Now the two colleagues and friends have become business partners, using their big-time knowledge for smaller — but no less important — enterprises in rural Addison County.
They’ve dubbed their collaboration “Community Barn Ventures,” or CBV, and they’ve located it at 44 Main St. in downtown Middlebury. It’s aim: Helping entrepreneurs grow their businesses while supporting local community investments.
CBV currently provides three main services:
• Business plan development, including strategic planning, messaging frameworks, financial analysis, social media strategy and operational efficiency reviews.
• Creation of software applications to address unique business needs and opportunities.
• Pop-up retail and special events at their Main Street location to support awareness of unique products, ideas and offerings.
“At the core of what we chose to do … is a passion for a business that is trying to make it work,” Cullinane said during a recent interview.
Rainey moved from Boston to Weybridge in 2012, to take a job as chief operating officer at Middlebury Interactive Languages. The business recorded 250-percent growth during her five-year tenure with the company, according to Rainey.
Prior to that stint, Rainey had managed Microsoft’s national investments for public sector clients. Her resumé also includes experience as a principal of The Parthenon Group, a business strategy and consulting firm.
Rainey and her family always had an affinity for Vermont. They were frequent visitors to the Green Mountain State prior to their move. She and her spouse, Cort, now have three young children.
While she said she thoroughly enjoyed her time at Middlebury Interactive Languages, she decided last year she was ready for a new challenge. Rainey and Cullinane had worked together at Microsoft, and had bounced business ideas off one another while maintaining their friendship.
“We had discussed ways we might be able to work together again in the future,” Rainey said. “We both got to a point where we were ready to take the next step.”
Cullinane made her move to Weybridge last year. And like Rainey, she’s had a lot of experience in the corporate world. At Microsoft, Cullinane guided global strategic development and innovation for the company’s education-related business. Most recently, she worked as chief content officer at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, responsible for product development and marketing. Cullinane began her corporate career at the startup EdGate.com, an online portal company.
“Because of my friendship with Stacey and Cort, and coming up here on weekends, I really appreciated what this area was as a community,” Cullinane said. “The things that this community valued, I valued as well. So when the opportunity in my career presented itself — at a time when I could make decisions more motivated by personal reasons — I decided that rather than take the next step on the (corporate) ladder, I wanted to take the next step here.”
She has had no regrets.
“Sometimes, when you make those big life jumps, a year later you think, ‘What have I done?’” Cullinane said with a laugh. “But this jump, I have not looked back.” COMMUNITY BARN VENTURES, a new consulting firm, is located at 44 Main St. in downtown Middlebury.
Independent photo/Trent Campbell
At this early stage, CBV’s clients have included Aqua ViTea, a local construction company and some new restaurant ventures.
“They needed to focus on what they do best — food and service — and needed help getting the word out and making sure there was process and consistency of message and all those things that help make an opening successful,” Cullinane said of the restaurateurs.
Middlebury-based Aqua ViTea already has a faithful following for its kombucha beverages. But CBV has been able to help such companies generate more enthusiasm for products through what it calls “community barn raisings” — pop-up retail and special events at the well-traveled Main Street location to showcase clients’ products and ideas.
“Being downtown has been wonderful,” Rainey said, noting the Main Street storefront has provided convenience for prospective clients. She said a young entrepreneur recently stopped by rather spontaneously to see how CBV might help her take her business plan to the next level.
“If we didn’t have this spot, those kinds of ad hoc conversations wouldn’t occur,” Rainey said.
The partners have done some pro bono work for WomenSafe, a programming that helps victims of domestic abuse in Addison County. WomenSafe is in the midst of a major fundraising campaign to increase its programming and facilities.
And thanks to modern telecommunications, Cullinane and Rainey are able to maintain a list of worldwide customers they have been able to nurture thanks to their considerable business contacts.
While distance is no obstacle for working with a client, CBV will remain grounded in Addison County, the partners promised.
“We named the business purposefully,” Cullinane said. “It is because ‘community’ is so important, in both of our lives, and we value it highly. The decisions we have made represent that value. We wanted to be downtown, we wanted to be part of the fabric of Middlebury. We wanted to contribute to the economy and environment in downtown-proper. We also want to be part of the community at large.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].
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