Jennifer Waters has her three-year old son, Jack, to thank for helping inspire her big idea.
As an MBA student working with Professor Brett Orzechowski in summer 2017, Waters conceived of Loyal to Local, a one-stop shop for local food, drink, and goods in Rome, New York. The idea has taken hold in the community, attracting attention from both local investors and small business owners interested in taking part.
“I love bringing Jack to local spots, but farmers’ markets are obviously seasonal, and some local places aren’t exactly kid-friendly,” she says. “After a ton of conversations with my coworkers who faced similar problems, Loyal to Local evolved from a fleeting idea around the lunch table to a way to actually solve those problems, with the added advantage of bringing some much-needed life back to the City of Rome.”
Loyal to Local, says Waters, would not only be a family-focused dining experience with a farm-to-table eatery, brew pub, and café, but would also provide local vendors with a year-round venue to sell their goods—everything from fresh, seasonal produce to artisan soaps and handmade furniture.
Waters, who earned a bachelor’s in public relations and journalism from UC in 2009, developed a comprehensive business plan for the project as part of her independent study with Orzechowski. In December 2017, she earned her MBA after 18 months of part-time study, which she balanced with her day job as Vice President for Business Development and Communications for the Mohawk Valley EDGE, a Rome-based non-profit that helps new businesses grow in the region. Her work, she says, has given her an insider’s perspective on what it takes to start a successful venture.
“I know what’s required to get a business off the ground from my work with EDGE, but it’s been interesting to be on the other side,” she says. “It’s a whole new perspective.”
While several local small business owners have expressed interest, Waters is hoping to gain even more traction on April 6, when she’ll present Loyal to Local before a panel of judges (and potential investors) as part of UC’s “Pioneering the Future” regional business pitch competition. Up for grabs: 10,000 dollars to help the winning entrepreneurs take their ideas to market.
“Of course I’m hoping to win,” says Waters, with a laugh. “But I also hope external investors see the merit in this idea and want to work with me.”