Stimulating Maryland Agricultural Entrepreneurship through Curbside Roundtables and Individual Planning
Traditional rural economic development approaches call for attracting development to rural areas where land is cheap and an affordable workforce is in plentiful supply. Neither of these conditions exists in Maryland where most of the rural areas set on the cusp of either Baltimore, Washington, or Frederick. Farmers and rural communities need to look for business opportunities that market both their products and their community assets to their urban neighbors. Growing new businesses means nurturing new rural entrepreneurs- especially farmers who add value to their raw commodities or direct market their products.
But entrepreneurs are made, not born. They can be developed to their full potential when provided training, a support network, and access to resources. They are by nature individualist who want to learn from other successful entrepreneurs and from their peers. They also need to have a sounding board for their ideas and dreams and a trustworthy “reality check” in their business planning process to help them avoid wasting time and resources throughout the development and launch of their enterprise. Therefore, developing the agricultural “entrepreneur coach”, someone who can listen and advise budding agricultural entrepreneurs, is an important component of any rural entrepreneurship program.
The University of Maryland has launched a new business development website, the Maryland Rural Development Center (MREDC), mredc.umd.edu. This virtual Center has a wealth of information that can serve as a launch pad for business development information. It is a relatively new site that some agricultural entrepreneurs may not be using to its fullest.
The “Stimulating Maryland Entrepreneurship through Curbside Roundtables and Individual Planning” project has three components: (1) the identification and training of entrepreneurial coaches from across the state, (2) conducting 3 statewide open roundtable discussion sessions to provide a platform for agricultural entrepreneurs to have an entrepreneurial coach listen, critique, and advise them on their business idea and provide follow-up resources, and (3) encouraging entrepreneurs to follow-up with business development professionals and use the resources on MREDC to develop a business plan and launch their new business
Originally our first year targets included developing and deliver training to 10 entrepreneurial coaches (the project leader will serve as a coach with 3 others at each of the three round table sessions). Candidate for coaches were recruited from Extension, support agencies, agricultural service providers, and a farmers.
This training was held in August at the Carroll Community College. The response to invitations to attend the training far exceeded expectations, but so as not to leave out anyone who wanted to be trained in the coaching techniques, the class included 17 participants representing five different agencies, Extension, and three individual farmers. The training was conducted by Winifred McGee, Penn State Extension, Ag Business Development Specialist. She wrote a guide for the training session and that guide is included in this report
Originally the proposal called for three statewide entrepreneurial round tables for potential entrepreneurs to receive one-on-one coaching and follow-up materials. We discovered that the sessions draw the best attendance when coupled with another event. Coaching Sessions have been scheduled as part of the program at:
– The Maryland Small Farms Conference- November 6, 2010, university of Maryland Eastern Shore
– The Maryland Farm Bureau Convention and Annual Meeting- December 5, 2010, Ocean City, Maryland
– Future Harvest-CSA Annual Conference- January 15, 2011, Reisterstown, Maryland
– Women in Agriculture Annual Conference- January 25, 2011, Dover, DE
At each session the attendee registers upon arrival and views a video detailing “Are You an Agricultural Entrepreneur?” The entrepreneurial coaches are seated at individual tables. Once the attendee has viewed the video, they can go speak with any of the coaches who have an open chair at their site. They can visit with as many of the coaches as they like. Each coach has a set of questions to cover with each client, but will then proceed as the discussion warrants. Each coach concludes their session with a client by giving them a referral packet of information on ‘Next Steps in Developing Your Rural Business”. Coaches will emphasis follow-up with local business development resources, using the business planning tools on the MREDC web site, and working with Extension specialists in the areas of marketing and business development
The demand for training for the coaches exceeded our expectations. These trained coaches are also using their new skills in their position as educators and agricultural service providers. A directory of Coaches has been compiled and posted on-line to circulate to the rest of the Maryland Ag community along with materials about utilizing the “Entrepreneurial Coaching” model. Our target number for coaches was 10 and 17 received the training. Fourteen of those have committed to coaching at one of the four sessions we have scheduled.
A video titled “Are You an Agricultural Entrepreneur?” has been produced and will be added to the MREDC website after the coaching sessions are completed.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
It is still early in the process to measure outcomes. The MREDC website does have a tracking feature to monitor hits to the business planning tools posted there and the site will be monitored for increase traffic to the business planning and entrepreneurial section on the site.
After the first coaching session at the Maryland Small Farms conference in November, Chris Himmel, a new farmer starting lavender farm in Tyaskin, MD, came up to me at the coaching registration table and said, “Thanks so much for having these coaches here. I was able to hock-up with my local small business development counselor and she’s coming out to the farm to help me with my business plan next week. The coaching session made the whole trip and conference expense worth it for me”.
University of Maryland Extension
28577 Marys Ct., Suite 1
Easton, MD 21601
Office Phone: 4108221244
Regional Director, Eastern Shore
Eastern Small Business Development Center- Salisbury University
171 Power Building
101 Camden Ave.
Salisbury, MD 21801
Office Phone: 4105484419