Ice cream entrepreneur shares credo with students
Broke and sick of their jobs, longtime friends Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield decided to open an ice cream shop.
They split the cost of a $5 correspondence course on making ice cream. They copied a New York pizzeria’s business plan, trading every mention of “pizza” with “ice cream,” and persuaded a bank to add $8,000 to the $4,000 they had saved.
Thirty-three years after opening that first ice cream parlor in Burlington, Vt., the co-founders of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream are worth millions of dollars. But money was never the goal for the hippie twosome. Soon after building the company into a nationwide ice cream distributor, they wanted out of the business.
“We felt like we were just getting to be a cog in the economic machine,” Greenfield said Wednesday while delivering the keynote address at Mesa State College’s Entrepreneurship Day.
A friend saved the ice cream empire by convincing Greenfield and Cohen big business didn’t have to mean unethical business. The business strategy for Ben & Jerry’s became to make money while improving the lives of people in the communities where Ben & Jerry’s did business. By 1988, the company’s annual report included a “social report” next to the financial report.
The company buys brownies for its chocolate fudge brownie flavor from a New York bakery that helps provide access to affordable housing, child care and health care for those in need. Partner shops sell Ben & Jerry’s and use the profits to help youth and provide job training. They even found a way to use melted ice cream by giving it to pigs on farms.
“The only flavor the pigs didn’t like was mint,” Greenfield said.
The details Greenfield provided Wednesday about Ben & Jerry’s social mission inspired Mesa State College business student Nathan Woods to keep in mind helping others as he pursues a business career.
“You can’t place your energy on what you can do for yourself without thinking about giving something,” Woods, 26, said after Greenfield’s speech.
Greenfield met with Woods and about a dozen other business students before the keynote luncheon. Business student Cole Nash, 22, said Greenfield was casual and answered plenty of questions during the meet and greet.
“He covered a lot of things, but one of the main things was if you wait to be in a financial position to do what you want, you’re probably never going to get there. He said we should take a leap of faith,” Nash said.
Mesa State business student Andy Chung, 21, said Greenfield taught him business runs more smoothly when you select your career for entertainment value and not just to make money.
“You have to start something you like,” Chung said.
The keynote luncheon, attended by hundreds of community business members and students, was just one activity during the college’s annual Entrepreneurship Day, also known as E Day. The day began with four, 50-minute seminars on topics ranging from how business owners survived the recession to how to get a small business loan. Afternoon activities included a panel of Mesa State graduates telling current students what they’ve done in business and an idea challenge during which students could pitch business ideas to a panel of judges.
Entrepreneurship is one of the fastest-growing concentrations at the college, according to Business Department Head Morgan Bridge. Bridge said many students aren’t waiting to test their entrepreneurship ideas, either.
“They have some really great ideas in a wide variety, from restaurants to new products to new services,” Bridge said.