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The Multiplier Effect: Entrepreneurship by Accident

By Colin Lauderdale, Contributor

Bridgett Blough ‘08 is the owner and operator of The Organic Gypsy, one of a growing handful of food trucks in Kalamazoo.  The Organic Gypsy straddles the realms of small-scale, local agriculture and downtown service industry, which allows Blough to make her living exactly how she wants: nourishing bodies and growing a resilient local economy in southwest Michigan.

Blough calls what she’s doing “living the multiplier effect,” and firmly believes that the growing local food economy in Kalamazoo is the city’s path to prosperity.  “Small businesses,” she says, “are what drive local economies.  Local communities stay together and healthy and vibrant through local small businesses.”

Blough graduated from Kalamazoo in 2008 with a degree in economics.  She looks back on college fondly, but can’t quite figure out how much of her success as a small business owner is attributable to her college education, and how much to her own identity as a “creative solution finder.”

K does not necessarily have a strong technical curriculum for entrepreneurship.  But, according to Dr. Tim Moffit, Associate Professor of Economics and Business, the College does have a strong tradition of producing entrepreneurs.  “Probably our most effective business outcome is entrepreneurship – by accident.”

Moffit chalks this up to strong self-selection (K students are motivated, hardworking risk-takers) and a global, liberal arts curriculum.  “Mix an ambitious, overachieving student with holistic thinking, and you get an entrepreneur.”

Moffit refers to Blough’s entrepreneurial way of thinking as “genetic.”  As much as she has used her K education as an asset, she brought an awful lot to the table when she came to college.  She comes from a large family with parents, aunts, uncles and siblings who have all started their own businesses.  “Career-wise,” she says, “it always made sense that I would become an entrepreneur.”

Many aspects of Blough’s K education haven’t contributed directly to her work.  Her economics degree didn’t include a single marketing class.  Much of the material covered in her courses was “a lot of fluff” – highly theoretical, lacking in technical skills or concrete details.  She estimates that, from all the economic terms she learned in her major, she uses about five on a daily basis.

But she also credits K for helping her develop into the entrepreneur she is today.  A small business owner needs a diverse skill set, creative problem-solving ability, and effective strategies for coping with stress.  Kalamazoo College was fertile ground for developing those skills.

Blough identifies one skill in particular as critical to her work: “Being able to see small, right in front of you, and then lift your head up to see big.  In my truck, I’m making an awesome tomato sandwich for you today and it’s nourishing your body, but it’s also part of something much bigger.  What I really learned at K is we’re part of something much bigger.”

This is the first installment in our series on the effects of Kalamazoo College’s education in the City of Kalamazoo.

Local Gone Global: Jaime Grant’s LGBT Study Triggers Worldwide Interest

By Sarah Wallace, Arts and Entertainment Editor

Jamie Grant

Major shifts have occurred in the past three years concerning one of the most widespread movements on Kalamazoo College’s campus concerning the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community. Now former Executive Director of the Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership (ACSJL) Jaime Grant became one of the major contributors to its expansion.

The Arcus Center is devoted to funding and encouraging social justice work, including topics like LGBT rights. Jaime Grant’s research outside of her work as the director deals with equalizing the rights of LGBT people.

The study Grant had been working on in 2010 turned out to be the most comprehensive study of transgender people anywhere in the world. She had no idea of the widespread response of her work. “We really didn’t anticipate that it was going to be this big,” said Grant.

Published in 2011, Grant’s study titled “Injustice at Every Turn” surveyed LGBT people of several different races on their experiences of discrimination. The national study included 70 questions and included approximately 6500 LGBT people in America.

When discussing how her study changed the government’s relations with trans people, Grant said, “There really was no data on transgender people before this study, either the scope of it, or the size of the sample, so when it hit in February 2011, it had a huge response federally. For instance, Housing and Urban Development made it illegal to discriminate against trans people in public housing.”

After Grant’s research caught on worldwide, national foundations furthered their investments in her work with additional grants. Her initial plan had been to remain at K to continue working as the Executive Director of the Center as well as a travel schedule and presenting her findings.

Grant, however, did not expect that others would expect such a time commitment from the entire research team. In mid-July, Grant had to decide whether to turn her project over to someone else or focus on her work at the Arcus Center.

“We all came to the conclusion that [the project] is my work. It’s what brought me here. It’s what I draw on,” said Grant.

Grant compromised with the College; she decided that she will make room around her travel schedule to come back periodically to K and work as the Arcus Center’s Senior Advisor. Though she is no longer the Executive Director, she will still have a presence on campus.

Currently, Grant is in Washington D.C. but over the next few months she will be taking her research to places including China, Cuba, Thailand and South Africa.

The current Academic Director of the Arcus Center Lisa Brock worked previously with Grant in a co-leadership position and had this to say about Grant’s contribution to the ACSJL,

“This year, Jamie will be missed. She did a lot of work on establishing the Center, getting us up and running. She’s the founding Executive Director and a lot of the things she started will continue to be with us.”