Program lets students prove themselves with successful entrepreneurial talents and recognition
By Kayla Cruse
Brescia University Director of Public Relations and Marketing
OWENSBORO, Ky. (June 18, 2015) — Yesica Cisneros, a senior who graduated from Brescia University in May, has been awarded an agricultural grant for her family’s budding blueberry and blackberry production.
Cisneros decided to become a part of CO.STARTERS, an entrepreneurial program at Brescia University, to expand on a business that her and her family had already started.
“I felt like there were some areas where we could still use some help with on the administration side, especially since the plan is to expand,” stated Cisneros who received a Bachelor of Science degree with an emphasis in Human Resource Management and Spanish in May.
Little did she know it would eventually lead to a financial opportunity to help her family grow their production.
Approximately two years ago, the Cisneros family, residents of Owensboro, planted a small acre lot of berries as a sort of trial to see how productive the berries would be in the area. They were pleasantly surprised with a successful first harvest they were able to sell at the local farmers’ markets and retail stores such as Nona’s in downtown Owensboro, Genes Health Foods, Pepper Ridge Winery and other local restaurants.
So naturally, the family decided to expand their operation, adding another acre to their harvest. This summer will be their second harvest and like any growing production, the quantity increase brought about another need, for a cooling unit to keep the berries fresh for longer periods of time.
In one of the CO.STARTERS meetings, designed to help participants think through a business idea, the assumptions behind them, determine next steps and prepare for future success, facilitator John Jurkiewicz, President of Jurkiewicz Consulting, suggested Cisneros do some research on government assistance program and grants available for beginning farmer. After taking his advice, she found a grant that fit her family’s needs.
“I applied for funds to help with the marketability of our crops, blackberries and blueberries, through value added by building a cooling unit to improve the freshness of the crops. John helped me fill out the application and my family received the grant. We received the check approximately 6 weeks after I put in the application,” Cisneros recalled.
“There were two characteristics about Yesica that made me feel she would be successful – her persistence and her commitment,” said Jurkiewicz. “Each step of the way she made sure she received the information she needed to make the right decision for her business. Those two traits fortified her self-confidence and allowed her to believe, rightfully so, that anything was possible for her to achieve.”
The grant is called the Kentucky State University: Small Scale Farm Grant and is designed with the small famer in mind. The grant program is for certified organic farmers, value-added producers and aquatic farmers and Kentucky farmers that sell at least $1,000 of agriculture produce to the public, but no more than $250,000 are eligible to apply. Corporations and cooperatives that serve Kentucky farms were also eligible, making the competition that much greater.
“We are proud of Yesica and her project. Here at Kentucky State University, we offer several programs like the Small Scale Farm Grant to help small and limited resource farmers. It is our commitment to help those underserved communities,” stated Joni Nelson, Extension Associate at Kentucky State University.
And this is only the beginning for Yesica and her family as they continue to grow their business.
“The plan is to gradually expand until we reach a capacity that can supply large berry distributors, as well as the local demand,”
For more information on the Cisneros operation, please contact 270-222-2940 or 270-226-2136.
CO.STARTERS Program has helped other students
The CO.STARTERS Program is a nine-week program that Brescia University partnered with the Greater Owensboro Economic Development Corporation (EDC) and the Kentucky Innovation Network to kick off in September of 2014. Open to all aspiring and experienced entrepreneurs , the program is intended to equip aspiring entrepreneurs with the insights, relationships and tools needed to turn business ideas into action.
Brescia University was proud to be able to graduate the first cohort in the state in December, followed quickly by the second cohort in April.
Cisneros is not the only student who has seen success from the program. Alex Degg, who also graduated in May with a Bachelor of Science in Business, recently competed in an entrepreneurial event, “Bucks for Bright Ideas” in Bowling Green, Kentucky.
“Bucks for Bright Ideas” is a non-profit competition to help aspiring entrepreneurs turn their business ideas or inventions into a product.
“I was informed of the event through our Career Services Director and Joe Berry, Vice President of Entrepreneurship at the Greater Owensboro Ecoomic Development Corporation,” said Degg. Degg was introduced to Berry through the CO.STARTERS program.
“It was a great way to get my name out there, as well as Brescia University, which made me proud as the only competitor from my school amongst other schools such as the University of Louisville and the University of Kentucky. There were also business professionals present and competing.”
For the competition, participants were required to answer six questions about their idea, as extensively as they could. Those questions covered such things as the description of the product, primary features and benefits, as well as, business plan items such as the anticipated customer base, the market need, competitors for the product and patent/copyright information.
Degg, originally from Lincoln, England, presented his idea for a modified wheelchair.
“I went there with a lot of confidence as my idea is a unique idea that I have put some thought into prior to the competition. With my idea, help from Tom Pope, the International Coordinator at Brescia, and all the knowledge I have acquired from my studies at Brescia University, I was very confident in what I was doing,” stated Degg.
The prizes for the competition consisted of skills donated by a number of sponsors. Alex had the opportunity to partner with OCTC, Professor Steve Bailes offered his time to help with manufacturing a prototype design using CADD software.
“For the future, I hope that I can actually create a working prototype, and locate funding to manufacture a number of these to sell to my target market, building up sales and customers until I have a brand and company I can run. This is my dream to have my own business, and for this one, it would be something I love, which is a fantastic way to work and live. Hopefully I can become a well-known name in this market.”
For more information on the CO.STARTERS Program, please contact Sarah Jackson, Director of Career Services, at 270-686-4268 or [email protected].