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Who Owns the Ice House?

Entrepreneurs exist in various forms, from the landscaping and lawn-care service providers in flyover country, to the big tech moguls and app developers in Silicon Valley, but there’s a commonality and underlying theme that unites entrepreneurs of all stripes: their journey began by identifying a problem to solve that was beneficial to their community or society as a whole. After identifying the problem, focusing on “why” the problem persists helped to identify the solution. Practical solutions to common problems can produce tremendous results and success because those solutions transcend demographic barriers and thresholds, and have universal appeal.

I recently had the privilege of participating in the Ice House Entrepreneurship Program to become a course facilitator through the Entrepreneurial Learning Initiative (ELI) and in affiliation with Alamance Community College, which highlighted the eight primary principles of the entrepreneurial mindset. The method with which this course and accompanying novel broke down and disseminated useful and pragmatic information was illuminating because it followed a tried and true process, traditionally popular amongst military circles, KISS: Keep It Simple, Stupid.

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Who Owns the Ice House? Eight Life Lessons from an Unlikely Entrepreneur, co-written by Clifton Taulbert and Gary Schoeniger, is the true story about an ordinary person who developed an entrepreneurial mindset, at the time unbeknownst to him, through life lessons and skills taught at an early apprenticeship. It sounds fairly straight-forward and simple without context, so let’s set the stage:

1.       Who- Clifton Taulbert, a young African American boy, and his Uncle Cleve, owner of the Ice House;

2.       What- providing ice to a small cotton community with a population approximately less than 500 total people;

3.       When- 1958 (Jim Crow Era)

4.       Where- Glenn Allan, Mississippi (Deep South within the Mississippi Delta);

5.       Why- insufferable heat/humidity in a community that had no ice plants and no access within a 20-mile radius when vehicles were a luxury.

Throughout the course of this book, the two authors volley back and forth with a narrative structure that oscillates between Taulbert’s firsthand account, as he navigates the challenges and rigors of operating the Ice House under the tutelage of his uncle, and Schoeniger’s analysis of the vital message Uncle Cleve administered through Clifton’s early formative years. It then shifts to later periods in Clifton Taulbert’s life, where he was able to apply the wisdom gained from those earlier learned lessons to subsequent challenges in his young adult life, before finally converging on a timeless application portion, in which Schoeniger asserts how and why the message still resonates with entrepreneurs and problem solvers today. Each chapter follows this unique and effective format while addressing each of the eight principles of the entrepreneurial mindset.

The significance of an African American man operating his own Ice House, despite the burden of the societal limitations bestowed upon blacks living in the Jim Crow-era deep south, had a profound impact on young Clifton. He lived in a community surrounded by plantations, where field work was prevalent, and the labor force was primarily made up of the not-so-distant descendants of the slave labor force.  In spite of being handed the same cards as everyone else, Uncle Cleve’s independence did not go unnoticed and inspired Clifton to strive to understand the message behind the slight grin, signaling that his uncle knew something no one else did. “In our world where over 90 percent of our adult population worked in the cotton fields, he was among the few who dared to count his own dream as worthy of being pursued.”

The entrepreneurial mindset is not limited to a select group of trained professionals, but rather to anyone who can identify a solution to alleviate problems that demand a resolution. Through his instruction at the Ice House, Uncle Cleve instilled in Clifton the importance of being an independent thinker who viewed problems as opportunities, rather than roadblocks. A passage from the book that encapsulates this concept brilliantly states, “Long before I left for St. Louis, I was being prepared to look beyond the challenges and to find the opportunities that were often hidden within problems. At the time, I didn’t view Uncle Cleve’s ownership of the Ice House as a solution to a problem. I simply saw it as a good business for him and a great job for me. Looking back, I now know that at some point along the way, before his business materialized, an opportunity existed within a problem.”

I am pleased that I was able to work through this course and achieve the opportunity to facilitate the program as an Entrepreneurial Mindset Certified Facilitator. If you’re interested in delving into the topics briefly presented above and further examining the eight principles of the entrepreneurial mindset that are discussed in the program and companion novel, then stay tuned for sign up and registration information to be provided at a later date!