New London ― Gary St. Vil is an engineer who entered the Entrepreneur Academy with the idea of starting a group home, but ended up with a plan for a chef’s table where a chef and a sommelier serve 16 people in one place a night.
It’s called Bon Vivant Fine Cuisine.
The Ledyard resident said while it “seems like a pivot,” it’s really about pursuing another passion and realizing through mentorship that an idea he didn’t think was viable could be.
“They’ve already poured more into me than I can ever imagine,” said St. Vil for the Eastern Connecticut Chamber of Commerce and its Entrepreneur Academy partners. He said the course was like “drinking from a fire hose,” but he will go back and review the information from each class.
The Chamber earlier this summer launched the 8-week Entrepreneur Academy, a program that met weekly at no cost to participants, who range from aspiring business owners like St.
On Friday night, the chamber held a packed Demo Day-style show at the Thames Club, in which around 15 participants showcased their businesses and plans to other business people, potential investors and community members.
Participants could vote for their favorite venture and the top three received cash prizes.
Christine Kulos said she and her husband, Tim, started “all over the place” but ended up with T&C Recycling & Cleanouts, a trash and debris removal business, and the Norwich couple plans to register the business soon. Christine is a social worker with Safe Futures, while Tim is a self-employed handyman and jack of all trades who now recycles scrap metal.
On the other end of the spectrum is Tai Au, which already has three businesses: Pink Basil and Samurai Noodle Bar in Mystic and Spice Club in Niantic. But she is planning to launch a new business next year, one that offers 100% plant-based meal kits.
Au said she joined the Entrepreneur Academy because she likes to improve her knowledge and learn, and she wanted more information on who to contact if she needed more investment.
Demetria Young of Groton launched Buttacup’s, selling herbal teas and natural products, at the height of the pandemic, starting with elderberry gum to boost her high-risk daughter’s immune system.
Demo Day drew other business owners, like Felicia Stevens, who earlier this year closed The Drunken Palette art studio next door after 12 years in business — the pandemic dealt her blow after blow — but opened Green Ribbon Counseling last month.
“We should always support local businesses and entrepreneurs,” Stevens said. She gave advice to budding entrepreneurs from her own experience and noted that public speaking is something people can work at.
Other attendees included Paul Lavoie, the state’s chief manufacturing officer, and Paul Whitescarver, executive director of the Southeast Connecticut Enterprise Region.
Lavoie noted that new business startups have increased 400% since the pandemic as people focus more on what they’re passionate about, and that his team is working with CTNext to help entrepreneurs move from “napkin to commercialization “. Whitescarver said seCTer is participating in the Connecticut Small Business Development Fund’s low-interest loans and is starting a grant program for entrepreneurs soon.
Mayor Michael Passero also greeted the participants. Chamber President Tony Sheridan said Friday that the pilot program had about 42 original registrations and about 17 people stopped it over eight weeks.
Sheridan said earlier this summer that the goal of the program is to prevent businesses from failing, and the idea going forward is for the Entrepreneurship Academy to continue operating out of the Thames River Innovation Center, the chamber’s future home in New London.
The coordinator of the Entrepreneur Academy was Rosemary Ostfeld, a Wesleyan University professor and founder of the startup Healthy PlanEat.
The group met weekly at the New London Public Library, with each session featuring a presentation on topics such as identifying a target market, accessing capital and pitching an idea—and a discussion with a local business owner.
Educators included people from SCORE’s regional chapter, Connecticut Women’s Business Development Council and CTNext, while people from Ivy’s Simply Homemade, Flock Theater and Waterford Hotel Group were among those who shared their experiences.