HCC celebrates National Entrepreneurship Week

By Shelby Harrell Staff Writer | Feb 26, 2014
Photo by: Shelby Harrell Chris Allen and Megan Brown are pictured inside their 1,800 square-foot incubator space that was donated to them rent free by the Center for New and Expanding Business.

As part of National Entrepreneurship Week, Haywood Community College held public events last week to celebrate entrepreneurship and encourage members of the community to learn more about the programs being offered at the school.

“It’s important to involve the college community and the greater community by hosting these events each year,” said Michelle Choate, chairwoman of the business and entrepreneurship department at HCC. “We feel our college community is leading the entrepreneurship initiative.”

The week kicked off with an open house at the HCC Student Business Center, where guests were able to take a tour of the business space and meet two HCC students who are tenants in the building for their growing business, The Waynesville Soda Jerks.

Last year, Megan Brown and Chris Allen were invited to move their soda business into a small business center incubator at the The Center for New and Expanding Businesses. The center has agreed to provide them 1,800 square feet of space without rent for two years.

The center, an entity of Smoky Mountain Development Corporation, has partnered with the entrepreneurship program at HCC to donate space and thus create opportunities for business students to help them get their businesses off the ground.

The Soda Jerks business will be located in the small business center until August 2015. Until then, the couple is currently trying to raise funds to renovate the area so they can install a kitchen and other equipment.

Inspiration for the Soda Jerks came about when Brown and Allen combined their love for carbonated beverages with natural, homemade syrup. As a result, a tasty and healthier soda was created.

“We didn’t want people to stop drinking soda, we just wanted to change the soda that they drink,” said Brown.

“To offer this to a community the size of Haywood, I’m so proud,” Allen added. “We’ve had a lot of support.”

The duo began experimenting and made their first syrup out of three ingredients: cane sugar, water and wild wine berries picked from their own backyard. When family and friends became receptive of what they were producing, the two began marketing their products to the public.

The Waynesville Soda Jerks can be found at The Strand at 38 Main in addition to the Historic Farmers Market, but as their soda’s popularity has continued to grow, they’ve realized it is time to expand the business model. They are working toward receiving their bottling certification so they can bottle their own soda and distribute it around the county.

The importance of entrepreneurship

In addition to the open house, HCC offered a showing of the documentary “Objectified”  — which highlights the importance of the impact of product design in our fast-paced culture.

Last Wednesday, the Small Business Association at HCC held a Twitter chat, which tweeted plenty of advice for entrepreneurs.

On Feb. 20, Tom Muncy, a business broker, gave a lecture about beginning a career as an entrepreneur. He discussed the attributes of entrepreneurs and the decision of whether to start one’s own business or buying an existing one.

Finally, a presentation called “Craft Entrepreneurship in Appalachia” was held by SBC Director Katy Gould and Entrepreneurship Instructor Meredith Carpenter. The two presented their findings from the National Association of Community College Entrepreneurship Summit on Regional Crafts.

“National Entrepreneurship Week is a great way to promote what we’re doing in the community and in the student community, and just show what resources are available,” said Gould.

“We tried to choose activities that would best complement what was offered on campus,” Carpenter said, adding that most events were targeted to attract students who were hoping to start a business or were working toward becoming an entrepreneur.

To make a donation toward the Soda Jerks’ renovations at the Center for New and Expanding Businesses, call Sherri Myers at 828-627-4544.