As traditional and time-tested businesses and industries decline, the new economy is embracing entrepreneurism. Appalachian alumni and students are in the forefront of that development. Many young professionals are commercializing their passions and personal interests, supported by the skills and knowledge they learned at Appalachian.
The Walker College of Business established the Center for Entrepreneurship in 2006 to guide and support the growth of entrepreneurism as the university recognized that strong entrepreneurial skills are among the keys to success in the 21st century.
Here, alumni and a student share their stories of how they have applied their Appalachian education to establishing themselves as successful entrepreneurs.
After several intense years in social work, Tracie Whiteside '95 left her job with Caldwell County Hospice and started her own dog and pony show. Literally.
In 2006, Whiteside opened Club Canine, a training, boarding, grooming and canine daycare facility in the Hickory area after discovering her natural ability working with dogs. She credits her success as a business owner and entrepreneur in part to her Appalachian education.
"In the social work program I learned how to formulate policies and procedures, and why it's important to have these in place," Whiteside said. "I learned about planning in general, and how to set and achieve goals. I had no idea I would be applying my education to working with dogs, but these skills are essential for anyone who wants to own and operate a successful business."
Whiteside is a self-professed "big fan" of education and says she will continue to attend conferences on everything from management to handling dogs. "As long as I enjoy the process of learning and the challenge of growing my business, I know I am doing the right thing."
Action sports enthusiast Reglan Brewer '98 says environment is inspiration. Beautiful mountains and their recreational offerings have inspired him since his days growing up in Boone.
Once a member of Appalachian's ski team, Brewer has turned his love of action sports into a career designing action sports footwear. After eight years designing shoes—seven with the Adidas Group—he went into business for himself in Asheville. He has designed for Salomon, Timberland, Keen and Billabong among others.
"Being self employed has been my objective for a long time," Brewer said. "It was a matter of getting in the right position to do that. Remembering the lessons of 'timing and tenacity,' I looked at starting my own business as a maturity of my experience, skills and business relationships."
Brewer attributes his skills as artisan and business owner to his eclectic choice of coursework while at Appalachian. He said that Appalachian provided instruction to help cultivate his design and marketing skills, and kept him in an environment that allowed him to be active in the sports he loves.
When new mothers Debi Golembieski '99 and Christie Fredenburg '00 met through a playgroup, they mused that "somebody" should open a store devoted to sustainable, organic, non-toxic, recycled, global fair trade and locally made merchandise.
"We're not the types to sit around waiting for someone else to do it, so we did it ourselves," said Golembieski, and, in 2007, Green Mother Goods opened in Boone. Located on King Street, Green Mother Goods specializes in toys, clothing, gifts and home essentials that are eco-friendly and not made in sweatshops.
"We wanted to start a for-profit business that could be an example of what a business can do for a community, the earth and the world. We look at the 'triple bottom line.' Is what we do successful in terms of environmental stewardship and social justice as well as profit?" Golembieski said.
The two business owners credit Appalachian for teaching them how to juggle multiple responsibilities, network with their available resources and find practical solutions to community issues. Entrepreneurship is important to the world right now, they said, because entrepreneurs create solutions.
Take a pinch of all-natural ingredients, a dash of sustainable idealism, a heaping helping of entrepreneurial savvy and what do you get? Jay Parr's Boone Barr.
Parr left Appalachian in 2003 to attend Le Cordon Bleu and now combines the principles he's learning as a sustainable development major at Appalachian to produce and market his line of energy bars. He started making the bars for himself and his hiking/biking friends before they encouraged him to go into production and sell them.
"I love to cook and to create food," Parr said. "I've always wanted to run my own business, and that's absolutely the path I want to continue on. I've received lots of help and guidance from the professors in the entrepreneur program at Appalachian."
He added that being competitive while creating hand-made products with all natural ingredients and trying to remain true to the principles of sustainability is not always easy to do. "According to the principles of sustainability, if I go out of business I can't support local farmers and I can't pay people a living wage. It's a balancing act and all the weight is on my shoulders. But I love what I am doing."
Former Appalachian basketball players and graduates of the Walker College of Business, Graham Bunn '03 and Hal Kivette '06 have reignited their Mountaineer camaraderie in the spirit of giving and social justice through their company, 46NYC LLC.
The two New York City transplants produce "t-shirts for charity," with each shirt sporting the number 46 and designed with a specific charity in mind. After covering their costs, 100 percent of the remaining profit goes to the charities they support.
"Through 46NYC we're committed to giving '4' the benefit of '6' areas of need that impact children around the world," Bunn explained. "(They are) abuse, poverty, disease, birth defects, education and nutrition." They work with groups whose goals are similar, such as the International Justice Mission, which works to secure justice for victims of human trafficking, for example.
"We feel fortunate to have come up with a concept that has been so well received even during these difficult economic times," Kivette said.
"We've had great support from the beginning. Much of our success is due to the excellent education Graham and I got in the Walker College of Business," he added. "There's a lot of entrepreneurial talent coming out of Appalachian these days, and that's surely a result of the Center for Entrepreneurship and the college's amazing faculty."
"It was a matter of getting in the right position to do that. Remembering the lessons of 'timing and tenacity,' I looked at starting my own business as a maturity of my experience, skills and business relationships."