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BC Student Plans Eco-friendly Hideaway

Berea College junior Jessica L. Turner recently was awarded the grand prize in the 2nd Annual Southeastern Kentucky Concept Challenge for innovative new business concepts. Turner received $1,000 for her proposal for “HomeGrown Hideaways, LCC,” Ecologically Designed and Built Vacation Rentals.”

Jessica Turner

Sponsored by the Eastern Kentucky Enterprise Group, Berea College Entrepreneurship for the Public Good (EPG) program, and Kentucky Science and Technology Corporation, the competition was open to full-time students from post-secondary schools and Community Colleges students throughout southeastern Kentucky. Ideas could be a product, service or social venture, and had to be an original business concept. Criteria for judging was focused on the inventiveness, feasibility and potential for development of the concept, with preference given to novel products or services in an emerging market.

Turner developed the proposal as a participant in Berea’s EPG 2005 summer program. Her business venture would offer ecologically designed and built rental cabins direct to consumers who want to fulfill their travel desires while minimizing their environmental impact. In addition to offering a wide array of dwellings and amenities, HomeGrown Hideaways would also offer the opportunity to engage in hands-on workshops and classes designed to teach techniques for sustainable living such as straw bale construction, solar panel installation and using natural plasters. As a bonus, home-cooked, organic meals with fresh garden produce prepared by an in-house chef would be included in the price of the cabins and workshops.

This year’s winning concept reflects a growing interest in new business ideas that are sustainable, says Debbi Brock, co-director of Berea’s Entrepreneurship for the Public Good program.

“The interest in entrepreneurship and specifically creating sustainable solutions to solve social and environmental programs continues to grow,” says Brock. “Worldwide competition for resources creates opportunities for entrepreneurs to build business ventures that serve new or emerging markets. Large universities are providing incentives for moving in this direction as well, holding competitions with awards reaching $100,000 for the top student business plans that create sustainable business solutions.”

Turner’s proposal also includes extensive research on the need for such a business, market trends in “eco-tourism,” target market, sales estimates, initial investment required, competitive advantages, risk assessment and SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analysis.

“What I’ve learned in EPG has been immensely valuable” says Turner, who said she had earlier found the process of creating a business plan on her own overwhelming. “Going through the steps needed to develop a business plan step by step, doing it a section at a time, was really helpful.”

Next summer, during her second summer in the two-part EPG summer program, Turner will do an internship at the Yestermorrow Ecological Design School in Vermont, which will further her experience with natural building and provide additional ideas for her business.

“Jessa is committed to seizing the opportunity to start her own sustainable business venture,” says Brock. “The Southeastern Kentucky Concept Challenge provided a forum for her to gain valuable feedback on her business opportunity. We are proud of the work that Jessa has accomplished and look forward to more accomplishments in the future.”

Turner, who grew up on a farm in Versailles, is an independent Sustainability and Environmental Studies (SENS) major at Berea. Her job in Berea’s work program is assisting Dr. Jim Dontje, assistant professor in the SENS program and Compton Chair of Ecological Design. Currently, she’s providing support for a bio-fuel coop – people in the community who own or have an interest in vehicles that run on vegetable oil or bio-diesel fuel and are buying the fuel cooperatively. Her next project will be building a demonstration solar hot water heater.

After first attending Berea in 1996, she took several years off before returning to the College last year. She was introduced to ecological design and the natural building techniques while working in Oregon. Since then, they have become the focus of her academic and personal goals. “Homegrown Hideaways” was motivated by more than the prize money, says Turner.

“I want to show people the different ways you can build that are less expensive, less toxic,” she says.

Turner and her husband, Nathan, have already begun to make “HomeGrown Hideaways” a reality. They regularly scout for suitable properties in central and southeast Kentucky. The couple are also planning to make improvements to a “fixer upper” they bought and live in in Berea, applying the profit they hope to make when they sell it toward buying the land for the business. Turner is applying her prize money to materials for improving the home.

The money will go even further because labor will be free. During this January’s Short Term at Berea, Turner is taking the “Residential Construction” course being offered through the Technology and Industrial Arts Department. When Turner found out that a “hands-on” project was needed, Turner offered her home.

“My house is old and doesn’t have any insulation,” says Turner. “For the class, we’re going to rip out all the plaster, get it down to the bare bones, then insulate it and drywall it. It’s amazing how things fall into place when you have a clear direction you’re going.”

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