Jerry’s scoop: How to become an ice cream entrepreneur

By Oona Goodin-Smith

Success is sweet and it doesn’t get much sweeter than when you’re working in the ice cream business.

Meet Jerry Greenfield. With failed aspirations of attending med school after graduating from Oberlin College and childhood best friend Ben Cohen in tow, the two set out to “do something fun and make ice cream.”

In 1978 Cohen and Greenfield used an $8,000 bank loan – using $5 to take a local ice cream-making class – to set up shop in an old gas station in Burlington, Vt. and thus was born today’s multi-billion dollar dairy staple, Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream. 

Hosted by the Student Life Lecture Board, Greenfield brought his entrepreneurial spirit to the Meadow Brook Theater on Tuesday, March 24 to share his sweet treats and tips on making it big as a small business.


Change it

“We were a couple hippie-dippy guys. We didn’t want to see ourselves as businessmen,” Greenfield told the audience. 

Dissatisfied by the current business model of selling out to venture capitalists, a close friend told Cohen that “if you don’t like it, change it,” and so he and Greenfield did. Aiming to keep the brand’s “community feel,” the two did something economically unprecedented – selling affordable shares to any Vermonters interested. The plan succeeded and sold out, with one out 100 Vt. citizens owning a stake in the homegrown company.

Believe it

Greenfield told the story of when he and Cohen were starting out and the Pilsbury Company would not allow their product on the same truck as Haagen Das, canceling their grocery store shipping business. 

Believing in their product and refusing to back down, the two launched the “What’s the Dough Boy afraid of” campaign ending in increased business and a white flag from Pilsbury as they allowed the product back on trucks.


Love it

Greenfield told the crowd that while “there are always setbacks” with any startup,   to “do something meaningful to you, so that when things go wrong, it’s easier to maintain hope.”

“I think I’m the luckiest person in the world,” he said. “I mean, really, I get to go around giving people ice cream.”