‘Boot camp’ for businesses returns to SNHU
Londonderry-based yogurt maker Stonyfield Farm and the School of Community Economic Development at Southern New Hampshire University will again team up to present the Stonyfield Farm Entrepreneurship Institute March 30-31 at SNHU in Manchester. New Hampshire Business Review is helping to sponsor the event. The institute’s “boot camp” experience gives entrepreneurs and CEOs the chance to focus on solving problems and swap stories with other business owners facing similar issues. “The information shared at the seminar is information I wished I had when I was starting our business,” said Gary Hirshberg, CEO of Stonyfield Farm. Without the advice, Hirshberg grew his yogurt business from just seven cows in 1983 to posting annual sales over $210 million today. Although Hirshberg developed the seminar in 1998, this year marks only the second time the event has been held in New Hampshire. “I’ve actually been doing these types of seminars for a long time all across the country,” said Hirshberg. “I was running one in Vancouver, B.C., with 150 people there and at least another 100 on the waiting list, when I thought it was crazy that I wasn’t doing it here in New Hampshire. I’m a native, my roots are here, Stonyfield Farm’s roots are here. Why not do it at home?” Unique to the Stonyfield Institute experience is the important role played by participants’ sharing anecdotes — or “storytelling,” as Hirshberg calls it — in a safe, confidential venue that allows entrepreneurs to learn more about financing, marketing, managing change and other issues that concern growing companies. “What I’ve learned in over 23 years of running a business is that you don’t make new mistakes, you just keep recycling old ones,” said Hirshberg. “The institute gives everyone a chance to participate and think about their problems. What someone thinks is a finance problem might actually be a personnel problem or a product problem. Sharing these kinds of things in a safe environment gives the participants a chance to play off each other’s strengths.” By safe, Hirshberg means that what’s said at the institute stays at the institute. Because of the sensitive nature of the information that is shared, it is not widely discussed outside of the seminar. According to Hirshberg, the issues discussed run the entire gambit of business concerns, from contemplating bankruptcy to how to deal with explosive growth. “The common theme among the participants is that most suffer from isolation. They feel their problems or issues are uniquely their own. That’s just not true,” he said. The seminar is geared toward entrepreneurs and business owners of small- to medium-sized companies, and is attended by an equal number of men and women. And more than one acquisition and turnaround has occurred based on relationships gained through the event. Helping to moderate the seminar will be Michael Swack, dean of SCED and a longtime friend and business associate of Hirshberg. Hirshberg said the SCED was a natural fit for the Stonyfield Institute, since it is the only school in the country that offers master’s and doctoral degrees in community economic development. Its mission is to provide education and training to community economic development practitioners, policymakers and community leaders and equip them with the knowledge, skills, tools and techniques that will have the greatest impact in improving the economic and social well-being of their communities. “What Michael has done is create one of the most unique programs in the world. It reaches out to provide significant, life-changing experience and support of entrepreneurs,” said Hirshberg. The Stonyfield Institute - which is being co-sponsored by New Hampshire Business Review — begins Thursday, March 30, with dinner and participant introductions at 6 p.m., followed by “Tales from the Trenches” at 7:30 p.m., a frank discussion by Hirshberg and Ben Cohen — the “Ben” of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream — of early mistakes and successes in their businesses. On Friday, March 31, three sessions moderated by Hirschberg and Swack, will feature case studies in marketing, finance and organizational development as well as presentations by entrepreneurs who submitted case studies ahead of time to be explored by panelists and the seminar participants. The institute will conclude with business problem-solving break-out sessions and a closing forum. Despite being a seasoned business owner, Hirshberg said he still gains insights into his own business from the seminar. “Even if you don’t present one of the case studies, you get so much from just listening. I always come away with a notebook stuffed with ideas for our own organization.” Other panelists include: • Katie Paine, CEO, KDPaine & Partners • Nicholas Nugent, professor, International Business & Marketing, Southern New Hampshire University • Erik Drake, senior production manager, Stonyfield Farm • John Hamilton, director, Vested for Growth, New Hampshire Community Loan Fund • John Blackford, management consultant • Ronald H. Covey, executive vice president, director of commercial banking, Ocean Bank • Carolyn Benthien, partner, Benthien Associates Inc. • Howard Brodsky, chairman and CEO, CCA Global Cost of the Institute is $200. Scholarship money is available. Deadline for registration is Thursday, March 24. Business owners may submit case studies in sales and marketing, raising capital, and organizational management for presentation consideration by contacting Veronica Kamerman at firstname.lastname@example.org. Discounted hotel accommodations are available at the Holiday Inn (formerly the Tage Inn) at the Manchester Airport, 641-6466. For registration and more information, call Veronica Kamerman, SNHU, 644-3103, e-mail, email@example.com or visit snhu.edu/1758.asp.