VCLF’s Learning Lab Opens New Doors

From the Loan Fund’s new home at 7 School Street in Montpelier, VCLF Director of Business Resources Elena Gustavson glances at the large, wall-mounted memo board in the all-new Learning Lab. It’s filled from
top to bottom with calendar items for the next several months: dates for surveys, details from brainstorming sessions, conferences, presentation topics and more. “And there’s a lot more coming up,” Elena says, excitedly.

The Learning Lab, a new dedicated classroom space for borrower consulting and instruction, is an outgrowth of the Loan Fund’s Business Resource Center (BRC), and, Elena says, “It’s going to create a lot more access and focus on learning for VCLF’s business borrowers.”

The BRC has been a presence at VLCF for many years, initially developing a focused curriculum of business skills training for the Loan Fund’s early care & learning borrowers. Since then, thanks to support from the Small Business Administration, USDA Rural Development and others, the BRC has steadily added staff and capacity to become an extensive coaching resource for all VCLF borrowers.


Elena joined the BRC team in 2015, became director in 2020, and earlier this year brought on Corey Hennessey as Business Advisor and Ben Green as Business Navigator. Corey’s role focuses on providing prospective and existing borrowers with financial and business support. Ben, whose position is supported by Mascoma Bank, works with entrepreneurs who have been traditionally and generationally excluded from financial services, including new Americans and Vermonters who identify as Black, Indigenous or People of Color, to connect them with networks, financing, training and other opportunities.

“Previously, working by myself, I could advise a limited number of borrowers at a time,” Elena says. With the new Learning Lab in place, however, Elena and her team expect to engage with 40 or more advisees at any given time.

Determining borrowers’ needs is a first priority, Elena says. “We make a point of understanding what our borrowers care about, what knowledge they have and what they need to prioritize.” The BRC offers business skills trainings to individuals and groups tailored to their industry, maturity of the business (“a start-up’s needs are usually pretty different from a mature business’” she notes), and participants experience, among other things.

Training topics now run the gamut from financing, staffing, marketing, customer loyalty, developing exit strategies and more. BRC’s services are available throughout the work week as well as weekends and evenings. “Our borrowers are often working at their businesses, their offices and shops through the work week. If they can’t leave their workplace to travel to us, we travel to them,” Elena explains.

Elena, Corey and Ben have also observed that where larger businesses and organizations often have infrastructure and resources at the ready to provide support, “Our small business borrowers don’t typically have those resources, and that’s why they come to us,” Elena says. “With the Learning Lab, now we’re able to do even more for them,” she adds. “And we’re just getting started.”



VCLF’s Learning Lab Opens New Doors

From the Loan Fund’s new home at 7 School Street in Montpelier, VCLF Director of Business Resources Elena Gustavson glances at the large, wall-mounted memo board in the all-new Learning Lab. It’s filled from
top to bottom with calendar items for the next several months: dates for surveys, details from brainstorming sessions, conferences, presentation topics and more. “And there’s a lot more coming up,” Elena says, excitedly.

The Learning Lab, a new dedicated classroom space for borrower consulting and instruction, is an outgrowth of the Loan Fund’s Business Resource Center (BRC), and, Elena says, “It’s going to create a lot more access and focus on learning for VCLF’s business borrowers.”

The BRC has been a presence at VLCF for many years, initially developing a focused curriculum of business skills training for the Loan Fund’s early care & learning borrowers. Since then, thanks to support from the Small Business Administration, USDA Rural Development and others, the BRC has steadily added staff and capacity to become an extensive coaching resource for all VCLF borrowers.


Elena joined the BRC team in 2015, became director in 2020, and earlier this year brought on Corey Hennessey as Business Advisor and Ben Green as Business Navigator. Corey’s role focuses on providing prospective and existing borrowers with financial and business support. Ben, whose position is supported by Mascoma Bank, works with entrepreneurs who have been traditionally and generationally excluded from financial services, including new Americans and Vermonters who identify as Black, Indigenous or People of Color, to connect them with networks, financing, training and other opportunities.

“Previously, working by myself, I could advise a limited number of borrowers at a time,” Elena says. With the new Learning Lab in place, however, Elena and her team expect to engage with 40 or more advisees at any given time.

Determining borrowers’ needs is a first priority, Elena says. “We make a point of understanding what our borrowers care about, what knowledge they have and what they need to prioritize.” The BRC offers business skills trainings to individuals and groups tailored to their industry, maturity of the business (“a start-up’s needs are usually pretty different from a mature business’” she notes), and participants experience, among other things.

Training topics now run the gamut from financing, staffing, marketing, customer loyalty, developing exit strategies and more. BRC’s services are available throughout the work week as well as weekends and evenings. “Our borrowers are often working at their businesses, their offices and shops through the work week. If they can’t leave their workplace to travel to us, we travel to them,” Elena explains.

Elena, Corey and Ben have also observed that where larger businesses and organizations often have infrastructure and resources at the ready to provide support, “Our small business borrowers don’t typically have those resources, and that’s why they come to us,” Elena says. “With the Learning Lab, now we’re able to do even more for them,” she adds. “And we’re just getting started.”



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