SEED Ventures Aims to Help Local Entrepreneurs


Bryan Rubin

College junior Abby Cali (left) and College senior Anna Droege begin painting a new mural to decorate the SEED Ventures pop-up store in downtown Oberlin. The SEED Ventures program helps local entrepreneurs with their various creative ventures.

Xiaoqian Zhu

Handcrafted chocolate, personalized cards, DIY art, dinnerware products made from recycled fabrics and soap for dogs: On Oct. 1, all of these things and more will be available at the Sustainable Economic and Environmental Development Ventures pop-up store in downtown Oberlin.

SEED is an Oberlin Project initiative that seeks to help local entrepreneurs in Oberlin start businesses by providing them with business education and a space to sell their products. The program also connects the fledgling businesses to students with social media, website and logo design skills who can help market products to the community.

According to College senior and lead SEED developer Scott Hulver, the business coaching that SEED provides to the entrepreneurs is key.

“Most of [the entrepreneurs] come from a technical background; they know how to make handmade sweaters really well, they know how to make wood products, [but] they don’t have [a] business education,” Hulver said. “We are having a business incubator. Spontaneously, entrepreneurs can attend workshops and get business coaching … so they know how to read financial statements and how they can be better [at] promoting their products and things like that.”

The incubator provides business coaching through the Lorain Small Business Development Center and is open to anybody interested in learning how to start their own business in the community. The 2,000-square-foot pop-up store opens the door for many small businesses in town to gain experience of operating in a real store.

“I have sold online and wholesale, but I have never offered my products in a retail environment,” wrote Janet Michal, OC ’77 and one of the SEED entrepreneurs, in an email to the Review. “I’m really looking forward to seeing people’s reactions to them.”

Ann Mickel, an entrepreneur who makes personalized cards, expressed her appreciation for the retail opportunity SEED provides.

“I don’t have the space necessary to work and sell my product to give it a trial run. SEED Ventures will assist with all of this. … Previously, I was making crafts as a hobby. SEED Ventures saw more potential in what I do and offered me an opportunity to invest in my passion. They provide me with the resources I need to be successful.”

The student consultant program, on the other hand, benefits more than just the entrepreneurs. It matches business owners with students from Oberlin College, Oberlin High School, the Lorain County Joint Vocational School and other local schools who have experience in social media, web development and graphic design. The entrepreneurs will receive help for their businesses, and the students will get paid for their work.

College junior Brynn Riesenberg and College seniors Anna Droege and Abby Cali came together this summer to work on a mural project for SEED Ventures in the pop-up store. The artists sketched a black river, native plants and the earth to symbolize natural resources, as well as human hands to represent people who take these resources to make them into a finished product. The mural was intended to demonstrate the “Entrepreneurship, Ohio, Community” theme of the SEED Venture program.

The program also aims to improve the town-gown relationship in Oberlin, as students who normally don’t interact with the town will get to work with the local entrepreneurs and community members and use their talents to assist community development.

“I think people make efforts [to improve the College-town relationship], but they are hard to pull off sometimes,” Droege said. “But the Big Parade is a really good example of [College-town cooperation], so we want to do something like that.”