Econogy, entrepreneurs and education: an inside perspective

Editor's Note: Andrew Hermann has a unique role in Econogy.  He works on our projects, particularly as our lead for the Advantage Development System curriculum for independent garden centers.  He's also a client, one of the first to go through our Second Stage startup-launching network with his new business, Blue Earth Foods. And on top of that, he runs Better World Beans, which he describes below.  Plus, he's going to graduate school.    

As Andrew describes here, working with Econogy not only gives him access to a broader range of expertise than he would have been able to find otherwise (including outbound sales and user-centered design), but it also builds him into a better entrepreneur.      

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Our business schools and economic policy gives a great deal of attention to entrepreneurs and their promising business ideas. But this attention often falls short: the deep challenge many entrepreneurs and small business owners face is in learning how to support their ideas and passion with concrete business management skills and a robust network.

As an entrepreneur myself, I found ways to improve my own businesses as a result of my work with Econogy’s Link Consulting student-driven small business support. Being a member  of a project team allowed me to gain specific business and entrepreneurial skills that were not taught in my coursework, while also building my professional acumen and network. As I apply that experience to my own businesses, I find that I have increased my capacity to work effectively - as an innovator, a partner, and a coach that supports my own suppliers.

 Andrew with Dolores, one of the Dominican coffee farmers who supplies Better World Beans.

Andrew with Dolores, one of the Dominican coffee farmers who supplies Better World Beans.

My own history with Econogy is relatively brief, but my entrepreneurial aspirations started at a young age. I knew that a traditional nine to five job was not going to work for me ever since an internship in high school that placed me in a windowless cubicle all summer. It was then that I understood I needed frequent new challenges and a creative work environment that was constantly changing. I also love nature and especially agriculture, which drew me to start two farming-related enterprises.

Even though I had the desire to start a business, I knew nothing about the world of entrepreneurship when I launched my coffee company in 2015. I was only
19 years old, and I had no idea what I was doing. A couple of people gave me advice, but for the most part I felt quite alone, since my impetus for starting the company was based on personal experience in the Dominican Republic --  something few people I knew had.

Fortunately, meeting Econogy and the group of entrepreneurs that serve as Econogy consultants gave me useful perspective on my business. I’ve learned that entrepreneurship is not about flying solo, but rather it is about working together through partnerships and relationships to create shared value,  and about leveraging business for the betterment of neighborhoods and society.

As an undergraduate at Xavier University, I was heavily involved with the Community Engaged Fellowship, which focuses on asset-based community development and how to build constructive relationships with communities in need. While the Community Engaged Fellowship gave me a plethora of challenging but fulfilling experiences,  and the vocabulary needed to participate in the world of community development, working with Econogy helped me grasp the opportunity to use small business as the conduit for economic renewal and empowerment.

For me, all of the themes and structural problems discussed during my years at Xavier and through my various work experiences are intimately related to one another. The similarity and connections between issues facing a small coffee growing community in the mountains of the Dominican Republic and poverty in the United States continues to surprise me, and I’ve been able to see in both contexts how healthy small businesses are able to foster long-term community change.

My undergraduate thesis discusses the interrelated socio-economic issues facing Cincinnati and the Dominican Republic, and posits an agriculture-based solution. Through discussing agriculture, economics, and social history, I argue for the importance of a diversified small scale, perennial-based agricultural system as the only way to ensure the survival and future growth of small farming communities.

In the Dominican Republic, small scale coffee farming communities are facing unprecedented challenges in an increasingly globalized economy, and I argue that they must be placed at the forefront of the battle to combat climate change and dignity of workers. The crux of my thesis reads,

“Small-scale coffee farmers are left behind by an unfair industry that is wreaking havoc on the environment and rural economies, and only through appropriate technologies, qualified personnel, and patience can deeply rooted injustices begin to be addressed and structural change achieved. Through a holistic regenerative agricultural approach, farmers can receive the tools, resources, and support needed to rejuvenate rural economies and create a productive farming middle class.”

This challenges epitomizes the importance of a new and interdisciplinary approach to solving complex socioeconomic problems. I chose to pursue two degrees because of the importance of understanding a wide range of topics in order to critically analyze and promote solutions in communities such as those that I work with in the Dominican Republic. Econogy understands this concept well and integrates this approach into their consulting work.

Communities and cities need strong neighborhoods to thrive and diversify in the ever-changing economy. Small businesses are the backbone of these local communities.
By supporting these small businesses, Econogy and its affiliates create ripple waves throughout local economies. According to the Small Business Administration, small businesses comprise 64 percent of new private-sector employment. If we as a society seek
to invest in job creation and a more robust economy, firms such as Econogy are vital to the health of the new economy.

I particularly appreciate the fact that Econogy’s vision is both global and local. By thinking about global implications but acting locally, businesses can make decisions that align with the triple bottom line – people, planet, and profit. Building on my experience and professional work in the Dominican Republic, I hope to bring innovative models such as Econogy’s to areas in Latin America where entrepreneurial spirit is alive but often goes wasted due to lack of proper infrastructure and support. Through collaborating and leveraging talent and innovation, our society and its business environment can challenge the status quo, thus igniting sparks of change and creating shared value for citizens