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The Right Person Makes all the Difference – Cheryl Miller

Sometimes the right person comes along and gives that extra insight to get you to the other side. That person was Cheryl Miller, Senior Business Advisor, MA Small Business Development Center Network, and the person that needed a little extra help was Tsanta Rakotoarisoa ’21, an Environmental Science & Policy graduate student, and a Clark University international student from Madagascar.

Tsanta entered the  Clark University Ureka Challenge in October of 2020 with a promising idea for a business – to obtain vanilla beans from her home country of Madagascar, sell them, and donate 10% to the farmers who live in poverty in her home country. There was no hesitation from the Ureka Committee to accept Tsanta and her venture, Tsara-Soa Madagascar Vanilla Planifolia, into the Ureka Challenge 2021.

However, it became quickly apparent to Teresa Quinn, Ureka Committee Chair and Entrepreneurship & Innovation Program Manager, that Tsanta was struggling to meet her required milestones, staying on track, and understanding the basics of business.  Knowing Cheryl’s abilities and resources through the MSBDC, Teresa reached out to her for help. After gathering an understanding of Tsanta’s needs, Cheryl accepted the role of Tsanta’s Ureka Challenge 2021 mentor and SBDC Advisor. Tsanta also became an SBDC client in November 2020, and Cheryl and Tsanta began meeting weekly starting in January 2021.

From the initial conversation with Teresa, Cheryl knew Tsanta struggled with time management and general business understanding. However, in the first meeting with Tsanta, Cheryl realized there were real hurdles to overcome with Tsanta. Cheryl recalled “she was more concerned about the name of her business and wrapping paper for the vanilla beans. She was not able to explain logistics or financials, and she had not conducted marketing research on competition to give her a framework.”


Cheryl quickly identified Tsanta’s areas of need and connected her to MSBDC webinars which she began taking to help her with different aspects of being a business owner. Tsanta also began utilizing the MSBDC Business Plan Guide that gave an example of a written plan as well as financial forecasting for a food business. The ratio analysis helped her understand how important cost of goods sold ratios are to her business. She used ratio analysis in her Ureka Challenge presentation/pitch on March 26, 2021, to the Ureka panel of alumni judges and faculty. Tsanta also learned the link between marketing and sales, and most importantly, time management.



Additionally, Tsanta credits the assistance she received from Cheryl and the MSBDC for Tsara and Soa’s second-place crowdfunding award of $1,000 in the Ureka Challenge 2021.

thank you

Tsanta is grateful to Cheryl and the MSBDC’s assistance and will continue as a client. She presented Cheryl with a lovely boxed gift of Madagascar vanilla beans and a wonderful dessert using vanilla beans and coconut. We hear the best vanilla comes from Madagascar!

Congratulations to Cheryl Miller and Tsanta Rakotoarisoa on a successful Ureka Challenge 2021 journey, and good luck to Tsara and Soa Vanilla in the future.



The Ureka Challenge

The Ureka Challenge is a months-long, yearly event designed to promote, develop, and grow Clark’s student ventures. Accepted ventures are awarded $100 of investment seed money from the Ureka Committee at the start of the Challenge. Over a span of approximately three months, participants are emerged in mentoring from Clark entrepreneurship faculty, as well as, alumni and successful entrepreneurs. At the end of the journey, the Ureka participants present to a judging panel of alumni, staff, faculty, and past Ureka winners, for a chance to be awarded up to an additional $5,000.