Photography Caleb Timmerman

On an early Saturday morning in September, just before daybreak, student workers from Berry College’s Student Enterprise Program hurriedly set up tables and tents for their businesses, alongside many additional community vendors, in hopes that their annual fall farmer’s market will be a success. This market is one of two such events hosted annually on Berry’s campus, which never fail to bring the community out in droves to take part of a not-so-ordinary farmer’s market.

At this market, you will certainly find an array of fresh vegetables, local art, and great food; however, you will also witness connections being made between young and experienced entrepreneurs, all of whom hope to engage the community with what they have to offer.

It’s rare and quite inspiring to observe a group of young college students in such a setting. Though millennials have often been labeled as the most entrepreneurial generation, one may be hard pressed to find a better example of how they are developing these skills early in their careers. Really, it would be hard to find any group of millennials with smiles on their faces at 6 a.m., eager for a day of sales ahead of them. However, these students are different – they are entrepreneurs.

“You learn teamwork, how to take initiative, problem solving, how to work with and in some cases manage your peers, and how to effectively communicate and network, which are all skills students of any major will need in their future careers.”

For years, Berry College has grown young entrepreneurs through an enterprise program that not only teaches the valuable business skills necessary for starting and growing a business, but one that literally allows them to run their own student-operated enterprise during their time on campus. Rumored to have started with an idea scribbled on a napkin by Berry College President Stephen Briggs and Dean of Student Work Rufus Massey, the Student Enterprise Program has grown to include 16 student-operated enterprises, ranging from agriculturally based businesses to academic tutoring and farm touring ventures. The mission of the program is simple, “To invest in students’ futures by inspiring an entrepreneurial spirit, furthering a practical business education, and teaching the discipline of hard work and good communication.”

While some of these enterprises were formed out of already existing departments of the college, others were created from the ground up by students who make it through an extensive business planning process.

Robin Holt, coordinator of the Student Enterprise Program, takes pride in the remarkable influence the program continues to have in the students’ academic careers.

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Robin Holt, coordinator of the Student Enterprise Program, takes pride in the remarkable influence the program continues to have in the students’ academic careers.

“The program teaches students to take initiative and really own their jobs here on campus,” she explains. “Students have the opportunity to run a business day to day without some of the risks entrepreneurs face in today’s world. It’s really the best of experiential learning.”

Holt works daily to inspire students to put in the hard work it takes to operate a small business or take an innovative concept from planning to fruition. “I believe our startup process has been very well developed, teaching students how to start a business by building an initial business plan and pro forma,” she says. “The steps are virtually the same as those an entrepreneur would face starting a business in the real world, which I believe is a great achievement.”

Courtney Williams, a senior mathematics major and student general manager of Viking Math Tutoring, knows the devotion and sweat equity it takes to develop an enterprise from the ground up. “It’s a huge learning experience,” she says. “I came into the program with little to no business experience and a passion for math, and it has already been very rewarding.”

Williams teamed up with former Berry student Rachel Aiken to found the program’s first academic tutoring enterprise, leading the concept through an extensive business planning and development phase to the viable business it is today.

“At times, it was a stressful process, one certainly of trial and error, but that just makes it all worth the while once you see all of your hard work pay off,” adds Williams. “As true to all of the enterprises run through the students of Berry, it’s ultimately about providing the community with a service they can rely on. Our overall mission is to provide quality and affordable math tutoring services to any middle or high school students in the Rome/Floyd County area who are seeking assistance or growth in their learning of mathematics.”

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A development of a great work ethic continues to be one of the central values Berry strives to inspire in students. From the school’s humble beginnings in 1902, Martha Berry instilled in her school the values of working the head, heart and hands of students. It is easy to see this mission being carried out today in the devotion students have for their jobs and their overall love of the work program.

Andie Spearman, a junior marketing major and student director of the Student Enterprise Program, has learned the science of balancing academics alongside working in a high-level position.

“I say that having a job along with taking classes really makes me a better student overall,” she explains. “I stay busy, working 20 hours a week along with taking about 16 hours of classes every semester.”

And it’s true; internal studies at the college have shown that students who participate in Berry’s student work program have statistically achieved higher success in their academics. However, the ultimate goal of the program is to prepare students for the world they will soon be entering post-graduation.

“You learn teamwork, how to take initiative, problem solving, how to work with and in some cases manage your peers, and how to effectively communicate and network, which are all skills students of any major will need in their future careers,” says Spearman.

But a strong work ethic and experiential learning are not the only values the Student Enterprise Program seeks to provide students. It strives to make a meaningful impact on the community at large, and its events – such as the annual summer and fall farmer’s markets – give students in the program one more opportunity to do so.

Ashley Boutwell, a senior marketing major and marketing specialist on the program’s business support team, realizes what meaningful partnerships with local businesses can mean for the program.

“Recently, the team has put a lot of effort into creating partnerships with local businesses and increasing our exposure across the community,” she explains. “Businesses like Honeymoon Bakery and Doug’s Deli Downtown use our products daily, taking advantage of the fresh, high-quality ingredients we can provide to them.”

Jodi Wildoner of Honeymoon Bakery says the natural eggs of the Berry’s Blue Hen Eggs Student Enterprise have been incorporated into the menu. “We primarily use the eggs for our breakfast we offer Monday through Saturday,” she says. “It has been a great relationship so far. The students are always super nice when they come, and it’s great to be able to support Berry.”

Other supporters of the program include members of the local media such as John Druckenmiller of Hometown Headlines and Doug Walker of the Rome News-Tribune through their coverage of the program’s events and enterprise launches.

“Without the local community’s support of our mission, it would impossible to have this unique opportunity,” Boutwell says.

Some of the 16 student-operated enterprises practice traditions that have been a part of Berry for over a century. The Viking Creations enterprise, for example, offers handwoven scarves and other products made by students using inkle looms – just as the girls of the school did when Martha Berry was still alive.

Other enterprises, such as AgriEducation, have capitalized on the benefits that come with being located on the world’s largest and arguably most beautiful campus in the world.

Victoria Pierce, a junior personal relations and visual communications major who serves as the student general manager of AgriEducation, has developed partnerships with local elementary schools, encouraging them to send their students on the tours her enterprise offers.

“Our mission is to influence the community by giving kids some hands-on experience in defining what agriculture is and some lessons about the world around them that can’t be learned through textbooks,” explains Pierce. “The community has been very supportive. Everyone is extremely interested to hear about the enterprise, and they find it just as exciting as we do!”

Pierce hopes to someday start a business of her own using the entrepreneurial skills she continues to develop.

As most student workers in the Berry Student Enterprise Program would agree, at the end of the day it’s all about people. Whether students are learning to build a community among their peers as they help run almost every facet of the college through the student work program, or developing relationships with local businesses and entrepreneurs in Greater Rome through programs such as Berry Student Enterprises, it’s all about providing for the community.

In today’s uncertain age, the world could use a generation of entrepreneurs – people who devote their lives to finding solutions to the needs of the world and developing relationships. Thanks to programs such as the Berry College Student Enterprises, young entrepreneurs are inspired every day.