Wandering in York County

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30 students and community members learn about entrepreneurship over a three day weekend. Jamie Kinsley Photo.

Bow ties as a startup: York College’s initiative to teach entrepreneurship

It’s called Mr. Hollywood’s Bow Tie Collection, and it’s owned by Timmon Smith.

After designing unique bow ties, this York-based small businessman heads to his sewing machine to craft his own clothing accessory for men.

He’s working toward a successful future by helping people find confidence through their stylish attire.

But Smith’s life hasn’t always been directed toward fortune.

Growing up in downtown York, Smith turned to the streets. He sold drugs and that introduced him to a world of violence, mischief, and crime. After visiting the inside of a jail cell for his fourth DUI, he called home. Telling his thirteen year-old son that he could not pick him up for a visit inspired Smith to change his life. 

Smith started looking for opportunities to grow professionally. Over the past few years, he has developed into a respected member of the community who still yearns for knowledge and advice. He received both at a recent York College workshop.

York College’s initiative to teach entrepreneurship

3 Day Startup’s logo. Photo from 3 Day Startup’s website.

York College’s J.D. Brown Center for Entrepreneurship sponsored a recent three-day event that was held at the Center for Community Engagement. This is where I met Timmon Smith. 

3 Day Startup, a company that delivers intensive, hands-on entrepreneurship education programs, helped 30 individuals in York who want to open their own business. Half of the attendees were current students at York College and the other half were community members including my mother, Anastasia Denoncourt. 

Its curriculum, taught all over the world, was facilitated by Shayna Dunitz, director of operations.

Over one weekend, participants learned the basics of entrepreneurship, brainstormed, presented pitches, received feedback, and networked.

Students of all ages learn about entrepreneurship from 3 Day Startup and York College. Jamie Kinsley Photo.

Dunitz gave critical advice – move quickly, collaborate, and build on each other.

She made it very clear that no one would steal ideas, and the space would be a judgment-free zone. The purpose was to learn – attendees should be open to lots of suggestions and critical analysis, not compete with one another.

However, Dunitz cautioned against “Mentor Whiplash.” Participants may encounter conflicting advice from mentors and advisers, so they remain open to all ideas while keeping in mind what works best for them.

Dominic DelliCarpini, dean of the Center for Community Engagement, says the purpose of hiring 3 Day Startup was to take talent and creative ideas in York and turn them into action. In an interview, he said many great ideas float around, but the center wants want to provide education to turn those ideas into real things that affect York.

Students discuss business ideas at York College’s Center for Community Engagement. Jamie Kinsley Photo.

The center’s ultimate goal is to empower students to work together and partner with the community.

While observing 3 Day Startup facilitate the workshop downtown, I chatted with Professor Gerald Patnode, associate professor of Entrepreneurship at York College. Since I graduated in 2012, the college has grown to include more of a multidisciplinary approach where students can take business topics as a general education class.

Patnode explained that many York College students are working-class or first-generation students (such as myself) who needed practical skills they would use for almost any occupation.

With excellent, free classes open to the public and teaching lessons geared toward the everyday person, it’s clear that York College has the community and education as a top priority.

A new purpose for the old Lafayette Club

York College’s Center for Community Engagement occupies the same building once enjoyed only by white men. Starting in 1898, the business elite engaged in conversation, entertainment, and ideas surrounding civic engagement and business networking. In 2012, the club shut its doors.

Acquiring the building in 2015, York College went to work renovating the four-story, 20,000-square-foot building into the inclusive space it is today.

It wasn’t until 1998 that The Lafayette Club accepted its first black member. Furthermore, women weren’t invited until the early 1990s.

Knowing the building’s history, Smith – who is bi-racial – and I immensely enjoyed our conversation, knowing we occupied a space once prohibited to people like us.

Timmon Smith’s transition

Timmon Smith wearing one of his handmade bowties. Timmon Smith Photo.

At a break in the workshop, Smith told me that he sells bowties to empower people. Dressing well shows the world we have value. It may be hard to change, he said, but reshaping who you are can start with simply how you dress.

During our interview, Smith confessed that he used to resent his situation – dropping out of school and his impending financial stability made life extremely difficult at some times.

Indeed, Smith has reshaped who he is. With the help of people who supported him, Smith earned his GED at 30 years old.

Today at age 38, Smith’s advice is simple:

  • – Surround yourself with individuals who believe in you.
  • – Find role models who can help fill in the gaps. Don’t be scared to ask for help.
  • – Even with the help of your peers, it’s up to you to apply those actions.
  • – Take responsibility for your choices.
  • – You are not simply a product of your environment – people can grow.
  • – Seize opportunities including York College’s free classes.

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