Bonita Tompkins of New Sharon is a former high school business education instructor who previously owned and operated a business in Boston, Massachusetts. After moving to Maine, an opportunity sent her into the world of teaching. There, she used her prior experience hosting inner-city high-school-aged interns at her family business to captivate and guide young minds toward their fullest potential.

Bonita Tompkins of New Sharon is the founder and executive director of The Center for Entrepreneurial Studies in Farmington. Submitted photo

Bonita’s spirit and determination forged a path of continuous growth, and her enthusiasm for witnessing the accomplishments of others not only inspired others, but led her to create the ever-expanding Center for Entrepreneurial Studies.

How did you get the idea for The Center for Entrepreneurial Studies? The inception of The Center for Entrepreneurial Studies was born out of both a necessity and a solution to a problem. It was created through interaction with students in my high school business program classroom. The combination of addressing the students’ educational needs and program development challenges shaped (the center).

In my first year of teaching entrepreneurship, I encountered a group of students who were unsure of what they wanted to do, and they were skeptical of being able to succeed as an entrepreneur. I reassured them that being a business owner was quite possible and that we would do it together. I modeled the sequential steps and then set students on their path to follow. The classroom worked as a team, and we would then challenge one another so that we could have the best result. The show “Shark Tank” definitely taught kids how to play devil’s advocate and poke holes in endeavors.

At the same time, I was assigned the task of developing a high school internship program (working with community businesses). This initiative came with many hurdles: transportation logistics, compensation structure, aligning with class schedules, addressing insurance concerns, and persuading employers to commit to nurturing high school students.

While navigating these roadblocks, I leveraged the concept of “problem solving” in the entrepreneurship class to shape the framework of a business venture that could result in a win-win scenario for students and employers. The unfolding developments captured my students’ attention, prompting us to forge a partnership in the creation of a nonprofit that provided all high school students with business education support.


This collaborative endeavor led to the inception of the Center for Entrepreneurial Studies, bearing the tagline “Created by Students for Students.”

What do you do there, and why do you do it? I am working as the founder and acting executive director of The Center for Entrepreneurial Studies. Every day is different because this organization has many moving parts, projects, and initiatives. I oversee the day-to-day operations that include entrepreneurial projects and mentoring youth. During the evenings and days when the store is closed, I am focused on seeking technical expertise and business partners in developing the program structures and the future site for (the center) based on what we have learned over the past three years.

In March 2022, our project took a remarkable turn as U.S. Sen. Susan Collins’ office reached out to us. Her office extended an invitation to apply for Congressionally Directed Spending (CDS), an opportunity we quickly pursued. The result was a grant award of $250,000, which has become instrumental in realizing our educational vision: a grand-scale Center for Entrepreneurial Studies. Sen. Collins’ unwavering support and graciousness have been pivotal. Her contribution enables us to plan for a much-needed facility that nurtures rural youth in business and entrepreneurial thinking, encompassing work skills and leadership development.

The youth I have encountered since 2012 have grit and Yankee ingenuity and are engaged because they know what they don’t want. Youth mostly need encouragement, support, and the basic human needs of food, water, air, and shelter fulfilled. When those needs are fulfilled, youth will show their full potential and will be eager to learn. While not every young individual might instantly identify as an entrepreneur, the exposure gained through this initiative fosters essential work skills and cultivates an understanding of the behind-the-scenes work required to have a successful business.

This experience is profoundly humbling and enlightening for many of our young participants and very good for potential employers. It is in the best interest of communities and employers to sign on to this educational approach or mindset, and we hope to be able to provide evidence that our concept will raise the bar. We do it because we care. It is not “I”; it is definitely “we.”

The road has been tough, and many have had doubts, but we have continued to charge forward. Our dedication to this project is deeply rooted and stems from a genuine and profound sense of caring. As a group, we are simply responding to a situation no community can afford to sit idly on.


Our care extends toward educating the younger generation, being socially responsible, and a belief in the resilience and perceptiveness of youth, as well as the knowledge and availability of our retired professionals and elderly. . . . We cannot stress enough that support is what is needed. . . . We have the ingredients for successful outcomes by helping to validate, redirect, and provide basic human needs that include purpose.

Alicia Phillips and Emily Holmes show off The Center for Entrepreneurial Studies shirts in Farmington. Center for Entrepreneurial Studies photo

What are the projects you are working on? We essentially have four intertwined projects that we are working on. The first is a gift store that sells traditional retail gift products and products made by young entrepreneurs. The second is the maker space that is connected to the retail shop. The third is a pilot tiny home on wheels building project, and the fourth is planning to develop an Entrepreneurial Center on Whittier Road in Farmington, nine-tenths of a mile from Mt. Blue High School.

The first project involves our downtown gift store, specializing in beautiful retail gift items as well as products crafted by youth. Youth participate in all facets of the gift store management, including issuing purchase orders, creating UPCs, looking at market trends, interacting with customers, managing inventory, and sourcing wholesalers.

The second project revolves around the maker space, which is seamlessly linked to the retail shop. The maker space always needs imaginative adults to engage in maker space activities during afternoons and weekends. This endeavor aims to foster a setting where community members can devote their time to collaborating with young individuals on various creative projects.

The third entrepreneurial project centers around a social issue called “Making Home Possible,” also known as a pilot tiny home on wheels for homeless youth. It is a response to the lack of a family and youth homeless shelter in Franklin County and the number of youth who are sadly couch surfing, ending up in dangerous situations, and lacking hope.

Lastly, our fourth project revolves around the strategic development of an entrepreneurial center located on Whittier Road in Farmington.


How have you raised funds? We have raised funds through gift store profits, grants, corporate donations, individual donations, donations of materials and time, and we have taken out loans to help support the project development as a whole. We are still bootstrapping, and this work has been extremely challenging. Finances are a constant struggle because we were a startup that opened two weeks prior to the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. We were not eligible for any (Paycheck Protection Program) funding, which was really tragic, but by the grace of God, we think we are getting closer to a solid foundation to catapult this amazing work.

What is the ultimate goal for the center? The ultimate goal is to have an entrepreneurial center known as the home for CES changemakers that is respectfully and responsibly built, that has a deep connection to the community, that fosters business education. We are in discussions with many interesting businesses and organizations who see the value in what we are doing in Farmington. The groups believe our model could be replicated in other communities, which is very exciting given that our humble beginnings started in a classroom. Our goal is also to bring the community together by developing young people into business leaders. It is an economic development opportunity as well.

Sophie Haley Vigue puts out an item for display at The Center for Entrepreneurial Studies Gift Store in Farmington. he Center for Entrepreneurial Studies photo

What age children do you target to give the opportunity to learn business and entrepreneurial skills? We originally were targeting high-school-aged youth to young adults. However, we started getting approached by parents of sixth-graders who were age 11 who wanted to be a part of what we were doing. We were initially reluctant to take on younger kids because we lacked the staff and funding, however, parents persisted. Their persistence also paid off for us because we learned that we need to connect with young people at a much younger age than we originally thought.

With this being said, we now work with youth aged 10-24. The range is great, however, it lends itself to peer-to-peer learning and amazing dynamics, which always makes me smile, laugh, and reflect on how proud I am of our Center for Entrepreneurial Studies changemakers. The days when we have 19-year-olds and 10-year-olds working together on entrepreneurial projects are the days when I feel the most satisfaction. Watching and listening to the interactions are always the best.

How is your tiny home project for homeless youth coming along? The tiny home project has been the most challenging. We originally commenced the project in March of 2021 through the Leap Affordable Housing Challenge, where we received $10,000 to build two tiny homes on wheels. None of the funding could go to salaries, so this was the second bootstrapping volunteer project we decided to undertake only because we were seeing many youth with this unmet basic human need.

From there, we ordered two tiny home chassis. In November of 2021, due to the rising costs and shortages of steel, the supplier decided they needed the chassis for their personal business inventory and could not honor the original quoted price despite submitting a purchase order locking in the price. We learned of this the week we told the supplier we were coming to pick up the completed chassis after being continuously delayed. We had been waiting for a long time for the chassis production and were eager to commence the project, so this was frustrating.


Following this, we had to find another supplier to build what we needed in the budgeted price range. We spoke with suppliers in Connecticut and Colorado, and lo and behold, we found Cassius “Cash” Clark of Nichols Trailers right up the street, who was willing to manufacture the two chassis for us for less than the original quote. We submitted an order in April 2022 and picked up our two chassis in November 2022.

While the chassis were being built, we worked on developing a team of young entrepreneurs and volunteers to assist us with the building phase. We met with Mission at the Eastward, various contractors, and instructors from Regional School Unit 9 to see if we could partner in building the two tiny homes on wheels. Due to many of our local organizations being at capacity in their work coming out of COVID-19, our project was not able to move forward.

While discussing this over dinner with a good friend, Katherine Harvey from the Alfond Youth Community Center, she said, “Why don’t you call Maine Cabin Masters to see if you could engage them.” I loved the idea and thought it might be a long shot, but we had nothing to lose.

In July of 2022, I stopped at the Kennebec Cabin Company in Manchester and asked if I could persuade them to take on a not-so-typical project. Thankfully, Chase Morrill reached out to learn more. I think I spoke a million words a minute pleading for his help. Since then, the relationship and project have grown thanks to the amazing people at Kennebec Cabin Company advocating for our youth and education.

As part of Chase’s advocacy, he was able to bring aboard a company called The OpBox, which constructs composite fiber panels made of recycled PET plastic using a proprietary EDURA Building System. Throughout this process, many other Maine businesses, such as Ware-Butler, JD Irving, Mathews Brothers, Poland Spring and more have joined us in our concern for providing basic human needs so that youth can truly learn and be blessed with a strong education in business. Without them, this project definitely would not be happening.

The next three months will be stressful and busy, however, we will wear a smile every day because of what is coming next, thanks to an amazing group of collaborators. The best is yet to come.

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