Executive Spotlight: Deborah Gallant, executive director of Berkshire County chapter of Entrepreneurship for All
PITTSFIELD — Deborah Gallant had worked independently as a business coach for 15 years. But, when an opportunity to head a business growth-related organization came up last year, she jumped at the opportunity.
Gallant, originally from Connecticut and who holds an MBA in marketing from Columbia University, is executive director of the Berkshire County chapter of Entrepreneurship for All, a Lowell-based organization that operates seven chapters in Massachusetts and one in Colorado.
EforAll, founded in 2010 in the Merrimack Valley, features training programs and conducts pitch contests for developing small businesses — functions that are designed to create an entrepreneurial ecosystem in the communities where the organization is located.
We met with Gallant recently to talk about EforAll, why she joined the organization, how the group fits into the entrepreneurial landscape of the Berkshires, and her background as a business coach.
Q: Why did EforAll decide to open a Berkshire County chapter in Pittsfield last year?
A: EforAll came to the Berkshires as a joint effort from a number of community organizations.
Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation ran a study in 2017-2018 about how to help the economy of the Berkshires, and one of the things the report really said was that coordinating and supporting small businesses was going to help the entire community. ... EforAll was an example of something they thought they'd like to look at.
Q: How did you hear about EforAll?
A: I didn't really learn about it until I was looking into it last summer to be hired.
There are people in Berkshire County who had been talking about it for at least 18 months before that, so, I got into it late in the game. ... Although I hadn't worked for anyone else in 15 years, when I heard about this program, I said, "Wow, I've got to learn more." And, I have absolutely no regrets. It's been a fantastic experience working for EforAll.
Q: What caught your attention?
A: They have a program that has a proven track record in other communities for helping under-reimbursed individuals successfully start up businesses. They have a format with pitch contests and the accelerator (EforAll's 12-week training program) and the curriculums, the mentorship and the cohort model. All of these pieces of it have proven themselves.
Q: But, there were already a lot of entrepreneurial programs targeting small-business growth in the Berkshires before EforAll came here. So, where does it fit in?
A: I understand the question, because I've heard it before. ... I do think there's an opportunity. ...
If you look at, for instance, what Lever is doing in North County, they look for technology startups to incubate. Ours are really Main Street businesses.
Sometimes they're virtual businesses, people like Binka Bear and Bottomless Bricks, people who have businesses that are going to help the household or that are going to help the local community. ... That really was an uncovered space.
Q: Why do you refer to yourself on your LinkedIn page as a "kick ass" business coach?
A: When I was doing my business coaching full time, which now I'm not, people who worked with me would find me to be a truth teller. I was going to help them understand the reality of what they were doing and help them make great decisions, but what some people want from their business coach and consultant is a pat on the head.
I was not, and never will be, a pat-on-the-head person. I'm a let's-get-pragmatic, let's-understand-what-the-realities-are [person], because that's what this test is about.
Q: How did you become a business development coach?
A: It's a great story. I was an internet person who worked in the early days of the internet, and then the internet bubble burst and a bunch of stuff happened.
We moved to California when my daughter was 5, in 2002, and I went through a period of trying to figure out what I was going to do when I grew up. I figured if it was hard for me, it was probably hard for other people, so, I developed a whole coaching practice around helping people to reinvent themselves. I called it life-work catalyst at the time.
Q: What did you do early in your career?
A: I was an on-air radio reporter. The most fun job I ever had was as the marketing director at WBGO, the all-jazz public radio station in Newark, N.J.
I got to meet Dizzy Gillespie and Lionel Hampton and Joe Williams, and ran concerts and events. Then the internet thing started happening. ... With an MBA and a radio background, I was kind of an ideal candidate for work in the internet. ... I was one of those people who helped figure out how radio networks were going to go online.
Q: Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, EforAll is one of the local organizations that has begun holding virtual events, including a recent gala for your first accelerator class (this month), and an upcoming pitch contest (May 13). Why did decide to go that route?
A: I wanted to celebrate those guys [in the accelerator class] in person. I didn't want to schedule it virtually.
But, it became obvious we were never going to do it any time soon. Partially, it was because we had grants to give and we want them to get started on their businesses. Waiting another month or however long it would be wouldn't serve them and it wouldn't serve us.
It's really disappointing for us as a new organization, because we were looking forward to showcasing them.
Q: Will the COVID-19 pandemic change the way small businesses operate?
A: Yes. I think that this horrible thing that we're going through is also an opportunity, if you can see it that way. ...
The example that I like to use is Shannon Ashcroft from Radiance Yoga, who went and posted all of her classes online. I can't imagine that when Shannon Ashcroft goes back to what a post-COVID-19 world looks like, that she'll shut down all of her online offerings. If they're an additional revenue stream, she'll be in a better place than she was.
I think people will still want to be in person when they can, if they can. But, I think smart business owners can see this as an opportunity and, hopefully, EforAll is helping them understand that and take advantage of it.
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