Nearly 90 Evergreen students, alumni, faculty, staff and community members explored the role of civic engagement, opportunity and an Evergreen education in entrepreneurial success on Tuesday, May 5 at The Evergreen Entrepreneurs Symposium. The event celebrated the ongoing success of Evergreen students and alumni in entrepreneurial ventures, including non-profits, for-profits and cooperatives, along with the valuable connections and networking that comes from bringing the broader learning community together.
Evergreen students were able to attend the Symposium for free, and nearly 50 did, both from day and evening/weekend programs. Faculty including Brenda Hood, David Shaw, Drew Buchman ’77, Thuy Vu and Carolyn Prouty attended and invited their students to join them. Alumni, and the community at large, were also well represented, with nearly 30 buying tickets at the door. Those attending from the community included Bob Topping, director of strategic initiatives at Regional Education and Training Center; D.T. North ’00, president of Achieve Consulting Team Inc.; and Sandra Miller, co-owner of gmiller and business and community engagement manager at Pacific Mountain Workforce Development Council.
The evening’s main event centered around a rousing keynote from Lisa Smith, executive director of Enterprise for Equity, an Olympia based non-profit that helps people with limited incomes start and sustain small businesses. The theme of Lisa’s talk was Opportunity and Civic Engagement – A Context for your Success. Lisa shared her story, and the winding path she’s taken, from lobbying and politics, to ultimately leveling the playing field at Enterprise for Equity. She shared her challenges and how she’s overcome them. Students, accomplished alumni, and community members in the room all had inspiration and lessons to take from her talk, and from the brief remarks of Brenda Hood and myself on Evergreen’s approach and the bigger context of the Symposium. Then the group mobilized to attend one of four small group sessions.
Breakout sessions were facilitated by independent and successful Evergreen alumni entrepreneurs.
Eben Greene ’91, president of United Creations, took a packed room through a brand culture talk and exercise, facilitating everyone’s creation of a Brand Culture Compass™ for their entrepreneurial vision or company. Greene was previously featured in The Evergreen Mind, exploring his path from selling merchandise at Super Saturday to working with clients such as Google, Bartell Drugs, Microsoft, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Washington State Ferries.
Sash Sunday ’09, founding owner of OlyKraut, hosted a more informal conversation. Sunday shared what she got out of her Evergreen education and Bainbridge Graduate Institute MBA program, the challenges of growing and scaling OlyKraut without losing its mission, strategies for small-scale manufacturing, and more. OlyKraut, which manufactures and sells a variety of fermented products throughout the Pacific Northwest, has a loyal following amongst the Evergreen learning community, including customers at the Flaming Eggplant Cafe on the Olympia Campus.
Lizzy Rieke ’12, staff advisor to the Flaming Eggplant Cafe, teamed up with current Evergreen student and Northwest Construction Cooperative worker Jeremy Van Orman. Together, they took the group, including keynote speaker Lisa Smith, through an introduction to cooperative business models and what it’s like to start a co-op.
Finally, Abigail Blue ’12, MPA ’15, who while an Evergreen student spearheaded efforts of the Sustainable Entrepreneurs Club, hosted the most interactive session of the evening. Blue shared her story, from the fields of the Philippines to the steps of the Oregon Capital, The Evergreen State College, and again in southeast Asia, followed by an interactive “ask” and “give” group exercise. With established alumni and aspiring students in the room, the group conversation translated seamlessly into small group collaboration based on individual needs and collective resources.
Following small group sessions, alumni, students, faculty and community members re-assembled for a community opportunities mixer, with active participation from several organizations and special guests that provide resources and services for entrepreneurs. These organizations included Enterprise for Equity (Beth Oppliger and Lisa Smith), South Thurston Economic Development Initiative (Graeme Sackrison), and the Thurston Economic Development Council (Michael Cade, Liz Jamieson and Kyle Wiese ’13). Evergreen’s Center for Community Based Learning and Action (CCBLA, Ellen Shortt Sanchez ’92, MPA ’10) and Student Employment and Work Study program (Scott Elliott) also participated.
In the conversations I had with alumni, community members and students, the theme of the mixer was how employers can connect with and find Evergreen students. There were countless business cards and contacts exchanged, for collaboration and mentorship but also for internships and employment opportunities. Faculty in the room also met prospective guest speakers and students for their programs, while alumni met fellow Greener entrepreneurs in our community. It was a fantastic culmination to a memorable evening.
Special thanks to members of the event committee: Edwin Bliss (Career Development and Planning Center), Scott Morgan (Office of Sustainability), Kyle Wiese ’13 (Thurston Economic Development Council) and myself. There were many important contributors as well, who made this event possible: Brenda Hood (faculty), David Shaw (faculty), Lee Hoemann (College Advancement), Jonathan Lindsay (College Advancement), Steve Laing (Career Development and Planning Center), Shannon Stewart and Karen Johnson (Communications Building). Finally, special thanks to event volunteers: Carol Linnebur and Donna Miller.