BENNINGTON — Two of Bennington College’s international students gained hands-on career experience through a local program designed to help small businesses.
Lever’s Bennington County Intrapreneur Challenge exists to provide small businesses with research to move forward with innovative ideas — and to fund the ideas of the winners. The role of Isha Shah, from India, and Mirza Cevra, from Bosnia, both 22, is to provide research for the businesses to present their ideas to judges and prove they’re workable.
Cevra was eager “to do the research that someone will … actually use in their business and that will actually contribute to a local economy.”
The five finalists — Authentic Designs, West Rupert; Grateful Dog Training, Manchester; MSK Engineers, Old Mill Road Media and Star Wind Turbines — will compete in the last round of the challenge for a $25,000 reward. Lever, the creator of the challenge, is an economic development nonprofit.
Intrapreneur Challenge offers $25,000 award
The two students came to Bennington College through United World College, a university that has 18 schools across four continents. They decided to attend Bennington because of the opportunities to explore different subjects and career paths while at the school. Bennington College gave them the chance to simultaneously take courses on subjects like ceramics and economics until they finalized their areas of study.
Eventually, Cevra decided on economics and environmental science, while Shah decided to study economics and anthropology. They are both in their fourth year at the college.
When they received an email from the college with an opportunity to work in Bennington through the challenge, they jumped at the chance to get involved with the community they’ve been a part of for so long.
“We both agree … that it is really hard for Bennington College to actually have any interaction with the community,” said Shah.
Finalists selected for Lever’s Bennington County Intrapreneur Challenge: Five companies to compete for $25K award
Cevra and Shah saw Lever’s program as an opportunity to put all of their economics knowledge to work. They were finally able to work in a real-life format after years of only working with their classmates.
The students are responsible for the market research that will decide if the company’s idea will work in the real world and, if so, the best way it can be put into practice. This market research consists of business development, the cost of product development and production, whether or not the consumer will be interested in the new innovation, and more.
“What Isha and I did was very thorough market research in terms of competitors and price points, and what will pay off for the size of their company and the size of their investment,” said Cevra. He added that the businesses “were using what Isha and I found as proof that [their business’ innovation] can or cannot be done.”
Both students emphasized the importance of communication.
“I think the biggest thing I learned from this experience is communication with the client,” said Shah. “We’ve done research before, but to put it into a document that is cohesive, that makes sense to others, is one of the biggest things I’m taking away.”
The role of these students isn’t to dictate what the business should do. Instead, they collect as much information as possible, educate the business to the best of their ability, and let the business make the final decision.
No matter what business wins the final round of the challenge, Shah and Cevra feel they have provided invaluable information that will have a positive effect on all of the businesses they’ve worked with.
“One of the biggest takeaways of the challenge was to take the client’s idea and work with it, both in terms of getting them the right answers … but also being very careful to … present them with the option and let them be the ones who chose what to do in the end,” Cevra said.