Student Features

Challenge Offers ‘Life-changing’ Experience

MJ Shannon ’17 (center), along with team members Avery Woodbury ’18, Katrina E. Staaf ’17 and Anthony J. Cote ’18, pitches her idea for ‘LoCal’ to the judges during MCLA’s inaugural Innovation and Entrepreneurship Challenge on April 19.

A childhood dream, some unexpected partners, and $10,000 in first place winnings at MCLA’s first Innovation and Entrepreneurship Challenge brought MJ Shannon ’17 of Saratoga Springs, N.Y.,  a big step forward to realizing her career goals last month.

Shannon – along with team members Barbara Reeves ’18, Avery Woodbury ’18, Katrina E. Staaf ’17 and Anthony J. Cote ’18 – created “LoCal,” low-priced, healthy snacks for on-the-go consumers.

Shannon explained, “I have always had the idea for healthy fast food since I was a child, and when I heard about the Innovation and Entrepreneurship Challenge, I just knew that this was my shot to act on it.”

The new competition, made possible by the Feigenbaum Fund and Jack and Susy Wadsworth, matches entrepreneurial students with resources and networking opportunities to help them bring their ideas to fruition.

Originally, Woodbury and Cote entered the competition under their own organization, “Be Great.” But after talking to Shannon and Staaf at mentor meetings as they moved through the Challenge, they discovered they had complementary business plans.

“As an organic garden network, ‘Be Great’ would benefit from having its first vender, so we joined forces with LoCal,” Woodbury said.

Now, he and Cote are busy tilling the soil and planting vegetables that will be sold on the food truck.

Their goal is to become a national restaurant that specializes in locally sourced, healthy snacks for people on the go. They’ll begin with a food truck in Northern Berkshire County, which they will operate during the peak tourism season as they attend live events and festivals – such as the Solid Sound Festival at MASS MoCA – and cater private events.

“Our goal is to be at as many community events as possible, including the much-beloved MoCA festivals,” Shannon explained. “Serving at festivals has been a goal since the beginning, because of the dense population of hungry concert goers. We expect to make a bulk of our revenue at these festivals, which will help to supplement for slower days out in the community.

Eventually, they hope to open a physical restaurant in the area. For now, they’re working to find a food truck, as well as pop-up tents, banners, and a booth, from which to sell their food. The menu will include “Lettuce Tacos,” large salads and stuffed pita pockets.

“The overarching problem with healthy eating isn’t the inability to prepare a healthy meal, but rather, maintaining a healthy lifestyle when you’re on the go,” Shannon explained. “Our yogurt parfaits, fruit cups, veggies and dip, and trail mix are all packaged in travel-friendly, cup holder-sized packaging. Other familiar snacks such as hard boiled eggs, ants on a log, and smoothies will be offered.”

The Challenge, Shannon said, “was absolutely life-changing.”

“We were able to transform an idea that I have written on the back of a notebook to a full-fledged business plan. Meeting weekly with mentors gave us the ability to receive constant feedback from a variety of professionals in different fields, which was invaluable,” she said. “Everyone we talked to and met with throughout the course of this challenge was able to provide us with information and ideas that we would have never thought of otherwise.”

She added, “It truly takes a village to launch a business, and the Challenge provided us with the best, most qualified, dedicated village we could have hoped for.”

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