'Put your money where your mouth is': Idea Jam launches new program

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BRATTLEBORO >> Ideas are worthless, Dr. Birton Cowden told a crowd of local people gathered to share them.

"Now, put your money where your mouth is and your sweat and other things," said Cowden, associate director of the Berthiaume Center for Entrepreneurship and faculty at the Isenberg School of Management at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. "And try to find out how to get these things done."

The Brattleboro Development Credit Corporation held an Idea Jam on Thursday at the Vermont Jazz Center as a launch event for its new program called INSTIG8. The flagship sponsor, the Windham County Economic Development Program, or WCEDP, is funded through a settlement between the state and nuclear plant Vermont Yankee's owner Entergy.

With the plant's closure, WCEDP is seen as a way to assist with the loss of 600 jobs by 2020. As of May 5, the plant was down to 136 employees as decommissioning continues.

The purpose of INSTIG8 is to create "a system that fosters innovation through creativity and ideation," and "a safe environment for creative entrepreneurs to try, fail, learn, build, explore and connect to other like-minded individuals while developing their business concepts and models," according to a press release.

More classes, workshops and events are on their way, according to R.T. Brown, the Windham County Economic Development Program's project manager.

"This is not a pitch idea event," he said. "We want you to feel comfortable about sharing your ideas."

Cowden urged attendees to share what was on their mind, whether they were non-profit or for-profit plans, or included starting an organization or a movement.

"The whole point is to start the conversation," he said before saying things like, "You have 60 seconds. Make it legal. Try to make it real. Stick to something a little more tangible that we can get behind. Have fun. Nobody's going to hurt you afterwards. You'll be the victor once you do this heart-wrenching thing."

Collaboration could begin after the ideas were put out there and no one would be stealing anyone's idea, Cowden said, explaining that ideas are worthless unless they are executed.

Doug Wilcox's wife got pregnant eight years ago and Wilcox started looking at ways to increase nutrient foods for their baby.

"I came up with the idea of sprouting foods and I noticed there's a big trend of sprouting things in the supermarket. Hummus is one of our favorite meals or little snacks. So, I came up with this idea of sprouting hummus," Wilcox said. "I think that it's going to change the world one hummus meal at a time."

Dave Evans talked about his project to create a co-working space in Brattleboro. He already has a website at coworkingplus.net. He hopes to get members to sign up six months before the facility opens.

"Think gym membership. Think $50 to $100 a month. Instead of buying a big office, you can have your cool little desk with all your bandwidth and all your fun design or legal friends, other entrepreneurs," Evans said. "We took a nap over the winter and we're back now."

Kat Whitledge, a bespoke tailor based in downtown Brattleboro, said she's ready to take it to the next level with a gender-neutral clothing line that would offer products "handmade locally, environmentally friendly and built to last."

"Society's finally open to the fact that sex and gender are not binary. Also, if someone wants something that's more masculine or more feminine, going into a retail space can cause a lot of embarrassment," Whitledge said. "I'd like to do this online and I have a shop that's private and a safe space for people to come to."

Thom Namaya asked attendees to participate in the Conversation of Peace. From Sept. 15 to 30, his group will be at the Tehran Peace Museum in Iran creating the project with children there.

"We're asking each one of you within this town and space today to work with your communities in creating an artwork or performance project with kids and with your self. And we will take this with us to Iran," he said, urging people to visit Facebook.com/100.flowers.of.peace for more information.

Other ideas looked at expanding a business that sells an environmentally friendly handmade glove/mitten called a glitten; creating an environmental education program that uses a mobile space containing a rooftop garden, compostable toilet and solar panels to accommodate one person's living; bringing together data programming within the health care industry; making housing especially for young professionals; connecting the tiny house movement with green building; having art installations go up along Interstate 91; establishing a network for senior residents to find ways to share housing; opening a local food hub incubator; designing a new football helmet; producing applejack liquor and engineering a "chicken guillotine."

Several other proposals were presented before individual conversations filled the VJC.

"The most telling and important aspect of the evening was after the event," said Brown, noting it was scheduled between 6 and 8 p.m. "We were starting to tear down and put things away and there were still people engaged in discussion well beyond 8, which I couldn't be more grateful about. It excites me for the potential of carrying the discussion further."

He said what he saw there was exactly what the BDCC was looking for: "a nice balance" of relaxedness and structure.

"There were people that were engaged that we don't normally see at the other events we do. I thought that was wonderful," said Brown, who has scheduled an informal coffee meeting for May 17 at 7:30 a.m. at the Cotton Mill in Suite A251. "We will be hosting those periodically with more formal events as well."

Contact Chris Mays at cmays@reformer.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 273.


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