A dollar is all they need, for a cause

Despite what some consider tough economic times, students are trying their hand at small business start-ups.The Dollar Enterprise project is part of Introduction to Community Entreprenuership, a course offered to students where they own and operate a small business.The venture covers everything from products to marketing to accounting with only one stipulation: it must be done with a budget of $1 per person.Though a seemingly difficult task, Dr. Kathleen Liang, the course professor, said she sees it as an exploration of community development via entrepreneurship.”With no resources, what are you going to do? You must create something out of nothing; you must turn trash into treasure,” Liang said.There is an eclectic mix of merchandise this semester that includes new and secondhand apparel, crepes, waffles and bedazzled, hemp-wrapped lighters.Most of the products fit well within the budget of a college student.Inspiration for the project came in 2005 when Liang started her entrepreneurship campaign in the Community Development and Applied Economics department. Some of Liang’s colleagues were initially skeptical of the proposal, but she said she was ready to take the department in a new direction. “I decided to do something risky, something new,” she said.Liang said her work led to the establishment of a required major course that is the only non-business school entrepreneurial program in the country.Both Liang and students agree that its success is largely attributed to real-world application. She said that by getting outside the classroom and experiencing first-hand the difficulties associated with operating a small business, students can experiment with different approaches and learn from their mistakes.For one of the student-run businesses, B-Town Threads, which markets new and used shirts from companies such as Easy Living Apparel and Burton Snowboards, adequately staffing their table has been a substantial difficulty.”Everyone has different schedules, so we encounter some situations when having a person at the table is difficult,” junior Jordan Fiegleman said. “Delegating responsibility is a hugely important aspect of the project.”Since its inception, Dollar Enterprise has grown more successful, with continually rising profits. Last semester’s entrepreneurs set the record for dollar amount raised, bringing total of the project to just shy of $22,000, Liang said.And in support of community development, all earnings from the project are donated to a public nonprofit of each group’s choosing.This semester, many of the groups have chosen to donate their profits to the communities that were affected by Tropical Storm Irene, which struck Vermont in August. Past recipients include the Intervale Center, American Cancer Society and Chittenden Emergency Food Shelf, she said.12