A group of students this past semester took their education on the road to give the local community a taste of Clark.
Students in the capstone course Community-Based Entrepreneurship operated their own food truck in the Main South neighborhood in partnership with local businesses and organizations.
“The course offered these students a real-life experience in both entrepreneurship and management, plus an opportunity to collaborate in the greater community using their new business as an engagement tool,” Professor Lisa Dobson says.
The semester began with a “brainwriting” session during which three teams of students developed three distinct ventures and themes for the food truck. The class then heard from various leaders in the Worcester community, including Peter Dunn, chief development officer with the city of Worcester, Tina Zlody, director of the Worcester Public Market, and Ivette Olmeda, a MassDevelopment Transformative Development Initiative fellow, among others. The students underwent food safety certification in preparation for launching their ventures and completed the city’s food truck permitting process.
The truck they used was a retro converted Volkswagen Combi recently imported from Mexico by Entrepreneurship and Innovation Professor John Dobson’s DYME Institute.
Graham Seaborn ’21, an economics major and business management and entrepreneurship minor, helped create a Caribbean-inspired business called Taste of Worcester along with his two groupmates. In addition to selling several of their own Caribbean recipes from the Combi, the group partnered with Morgan’s Caribbean Products on Chandler Street to sell goods from the market and help increase foot traffic to the store.
“A great thing about Clark is it has such a diverse student population. One of my group members is from the Caribbean and she knew she wanted to bring some of her culture to our venture,” Seaborn says. “We wanted to partner with someone who really knew that culture, so this ended up being an ideal pairing.”
The group sold three of their own menu items from the food truck — fried plantains, pupusas, and sambusas — and bought wholesale banana chips, Milo cookies, and Catch chocolate bars from Morgan’s Caribbean Products. Taste of Worcester made appearances at several Clark events during the semester, selling out within 20 minutes during their first event in front of Atwood Hall in April. Through the process, Seaborn says he and his teammates were able to encourage their peers to venture off campus and into the neighborhood.
“It’s great to be able to point to a brick-and-mortar shop and say, ‘We have a relationship here and you should check it out,’” he says. “It’s really exciting to see people get out of their comfort zone and explore the community.”
Margarita Perez-Maza ’22, a marketing major and management and entrepreneurship minor, and Tyler Davern ’21, a management major and entrepreneurship minor, focused their venture on addressing food sustainability and homelessness in Worcester. Their food truck, Social Taco, specialized in chicken tacos and partnered with Woo Fridge — a local organization with three community refrigerators throughout the city — to collect donations and supply the fridges with fresh-made meals.
Perez-Maza says the course covered everything it takes to get a small business off the ground, from developing recipes to setting prices and marketing products. She says the experience helped her feel more confident partnering with the Main South neighborhood.
“The impact that you can make on others is so rewarding, not only to yourself, but to them, as well,” Davern adds. “Taking this class will definitely change your perspective in a way that you might not have anticipated. Fighting for something you’re passionate about is always a plus, too. It was definitely a rewarding semester for me.”
For Melanie Adams ’22, a psychology and management double major and entrepreneurship minor, the course presented an opportunity to create an event that brought together community members from all walks of life with the goal of promoting small businesses. Adams and her groupmates created TogetherFest Worcester. They partnered with the Burncoat Center for Arts and Wellness to host a small festival featuring eight local vendors. Adams, a yoga instructor, offered free classes during the event while her teammates sold smoothies out of the Combi.
Adams says her group was mindful about how the vendors they selected ensured a diverse mix of contributors. They also invited three Clark entrepreneurs to sell their goods at the festival, including Victoria Pastor ’24 of Self-care with Vi, Julia Dantzler ’24 of No Worries Skincare, and Alli Jutras ’19 of Back Alley Clothing.
While Adams has done volunteer work in the community before, she says that planning TogetherFest taught here other ways to make a deeper impact.
“There are relationships where you and a partner share resources in a way that’s mutually beneficial, and cooperative relationships where you and your community partner are co-creating and planning programming together,” she explains. “It’s not just showing up; it’s creating something that’s sustainable.”
The Burncoat Center for Arts and Wellness plans to create a recurring series of events in June and July featuring local produce and kombucha, a fermented tea drink.
Dobson hopes the course will encourage the type of self-reflection and critical thinking that leads to greater individual empowerment.
“It builds self-efficacy and confidence to be able to go out and be a vital part of the community and build off each other’s strengths,” she says. “Each group did fantastic with that.”