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LEAP Grants Awarded to Student Entrepreneurs

by Solvegi Shmulsky

PUTNEY, Vt.--Two student business projects, clothing line Rxwfxce and Brigid’s Bistro, earned Landmark Entrepreneurial Accelerator Program (LEAP) funding in 2016. Marc Thurman and Ryan Gonsalves of Rxwfxce (pronounced “raw face”) and chef Mario Ornelas proposed the winning projects. LEAP funds totaling $10,000 annually are available to eligible students through the generous support of the Morgan Le Fay Dreams Foundation.Dr. Peter Eden, center, presents LEAP awards to students Mario Ornelas and Marc Thurman. At right are LC student and Marc's friend, Tim Hunter, and LC student Ryan Gonsalves, who co-wrote the LEAP proposal with Marc.

“This year’s projects are eclectic,” said Dr. Peter Eden, Landmark College president. “They are as unique as the learners on this campus, yet they both come from student entrepreneurs who are passionate about what they do and committed to making a positive impact.”


Social justice-inspired clothing

“It’s more than just a word or a company,” said Marc Thurman, founder of Rxwfxce, “We want to make a positive impact, carrying a message of service, hope, empowerment, connection, love, and self-expression.”

How does clothing fit in? Thurman’s socio-culturally responsible clothing line is designed as an outward emblem to show solidarity with those whose voices are not heard. Thurman and co-creators are using social media and network connections to brand the Rxwfxce graphic as an image of empowerment. “When people see the logo, we want our mission to spring to mind,” Thurman said.

The creators of Rxwfxce have separately endured life hardships, and the company is designed to speak to others who are marginalized or voiceless in society. 

“I think many talented students here on this campus have the experience of not being listened to, and they love the idea behind Rxwfxce,” he said. “Every day someone asks me about it—a professor wore our shirt to class.”

When asked what he would like to share with other students, Thurman said, “Find your inner gift and unleash it.”

Brigid’s Bistro

Traditional fresh fare   

“With a few dishes each night and an emphasis on preparation and farm-to-table ingredients, the food will be quality and comforting,” said Chef Mario Ornelas about Brigid’s Bistro. Ornelas was awarded funding to purchase equipment for the establishment, which he plans to open in Bodega Bay, California.

“Traditional bistros are not that common,” explained Ornelas. “They originated in wartime France so soldiers could get good meals in times of scarcity. The menus were small, but the food was prepared with great care.” Brigid’s Bistro will follow that tradition and capitalize on Ornelas’s passion for “making something good with whatever is abundant.”

Raised by his mother and grandmother, Ornelas was introduced to cooking at a young age. At his grandmother’s side, he learned traditional Mexican fare. While attending Johnson and Wales College of Culinary Arts in Providence, Rhode Island, he encountered academic struggles and was referred for LD testing. As an adult, he was diagnosed with learning disabilities and opted to attend Landmark College, where he has been learning about himself as a student and about how to approach college work. To non-traditional aged students, he said, “It’s never too late for college. Landmark has changed my life.”

2017 LEAP Opportunities

LEAP grants are awarded once per year. The deadline for a 2017 award is February 1, 2017. LEAP details are posted online and a call for proposals will be circulated in fall 2016. For more information, contact Lynne Feal-Staub.

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