Food

Boston Public Market launches program to support entrepreneurs

The program held its first seminar this past September.

Eric Kaweesi and Megan Schuler, participants in the Boston Public Market Entrepreneurship Forum. Photo courtesy of Lifebloom

The Boston Public Market has launched a new program for entrepreneurs who provide goods and services to the Boston area.

The Boston Public Market Entrepreneurship Forum will host a series of six educational seminars for 24 participating small business owners. The program, launched in partnership with Citizens Bank, held its first seminar in September. The series will culminate in the Boston Public Market Incubator Program, through which one or two entrepreneurs will be chosen to sell their wares in the market, free of charge, for up to one year.

The past few years have been an opportunity to “do some soul-searching about goals,” according to Cheryl Cronin, the market’s CEO. “[I]t was made abundantly clear how important it was that we reprioritize issues of racial equity.”

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“Not everybody has the opportunity to develop their passion around food or artisanal work,” Cronin added. “We began to think, how can we take the BPM and all the wonderful things about it and transform it into a bit more of an opportunity to cultivate more economic opportunity for people of color and other folks.”

While not all of the 24 entrepreneurs selected are BIPOC, Cronin emphasized that racial equity was an important consideration in choosing Forum participants. The entrepreneurs will have the opportunity to learn about topics such as finance, marketing, legal, and business partnerships.

Marie Lafontant, who emigrated from Haiti as a pre-teen, is the owner of Lost Art Cultured Foods, which produces fermented vegetables that come in a variety of flavors. She was selected to participate in the Forum and said that the networking opportunities have been especially valuable. As a minority entrepreneur and single mom, maintaining her business has had challenges, and connecting to people with similar experiences has been helpful.

“When things get difficult, and you want to give up, you have a group of like-minded people to talk to and get support, to get encouragement. … A lot of the people in the program are from the Black and the brown community. We all struggle with not having parents or family members we could go to and say, ‘I’m starting a business; can you lend me $50,000?’ We don’t have access to funding like that.”

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Eric Kaweesi and Megan Schuler, also participants in the program, are the founders of Lifebloom, a company that makes hand-poured, natural candles in handmade concrete vessels, as well as incense and other home goods. Their business launched following a trip to Vermont and out of their longing to connect themselves again to the restorative aspects of being in nature.

Kaweesi and Schuler hope to one day open a brick-and-mortar store, but in the meantime, the forum has helped them learn about how to run a business.

“A big part is how you plan and strategize,” Kaweesi said. “For us, starting out, we were doing things a little bit on the fly or as they came. Without any data from previous purchases or customer interactions, we didn’t know how to strategize or plan for the future. We’ve been in business for about a year, so going into the second year, in alignment with this entrepreneurship program, we got to listen to a lot of different stories from more veteran entrepreneurs that were there.”