Great Barrington — The Railroad Street Youth Project, BerkShares, Inc., the Schumacher Center for a New Economics, and Berkshire Community College are partnering to offer an Entrepreneurial Apprenticeship to South County youth this winter.
Berkshire Community College’s South County Center will host the eight-week long course in one of its state-of-the-art classrooms starting January 13. In mid-March, the program will culminate with a public event where participants will present their business plans and each will receive an award of 200 BerkShares.
One of the most common complaints heard in the Berkshires is that young Berkshire county residents have few opportunities to stay here after high school and make a good living. And it is true: as the region’s economy has tended towards the service sector a combination of low-wage jobs and high housing costs has made it especially difficult to retain the area’s youth; the population is declining and the median age of Berkshire residents is now 45.
At the same time, however, Berkshire County has a thriving independent business community with many examples of successful small or medium-sized businesses and many experienced business people. The Berkshires also have an abundance of renewable natural resources — hardwood forests, rivers and agriculture — all of which can provide energy and inputs to make the things people need and want.
The Entrepreneurial Apprenticeship will focus on the following question: “What kind of businesses can young people start in the Berkshires by harnessing the available human and natural resources in a sustainable way?” The course will emphasize opportunities for import replacement in the essential areas of food, clothing, energy, transportation and shelter.
Throughout the course guest speakers from the local business and college community will offer stories from their own experience as inspiration to the budding entrepreneurs participating in the program. Other local business experts will present on particular subjects, such as marketing and bookkeeping. Yet others will serve as mentors to the participants as they develop their business ideas.
Students who complete their business plans by the end of the course will receive an award of 200 BerkShares, which may be used toward the start-up of an enterprise. If a student decides not to pursue the business plan they develop, they can donate it to a library of ideas for businesses that are appropriate to the Berkshire economy.
By offering training for entrepreneurship, this business-planning course will dovetail with R.S.Y.P.’s existing Apprenticeship programs, which offer high school students real-world experience in a number of different fields.