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Two Students From Different Parts of Caribbean Unite at Morrisville State College, Follow Entrepreneurial Dreams

MORRISVILLE, N.Y. —Robert Petillo and Alonzo Murray started dabbling in small business ventures when they were less than 10 years old.

Living miles apart in different stretches of the Caribbean, each used their profits to help support their poor families and to develop new ideas and hopes of becoming entrepreneurs some day.

Petillo used old fish netting and wire from discarded wreaths to devise a trap to catch sea crab, which he sold for 35 cents on a pier landscaped with coconut trees and sandy beaches in Belize, a seaside country enveloped in tropical green blankets of forest.

At about the same time, Alonzo Murray was planting seeds to farm and sell cabbage, pumpkins and tomatoes in his backyard in Montego Bay, Jamaica, a picturesque island flanked by botanical gardens, waterfalls and romantic hideaways.

Their industrious nature spirited bigger ideas and larger endeavors years later, when they met by chance at Morrisville State College and became roommates.

Petillo, 21, a third-year student, is enrolled in the college’s entrepreneurship and small business management bachelor of business administration degree program. He already has an associate degree in travel and tourism—hospitality management. Murray, 20, plans to transfer into the entrepreneurship and small business management program upon completion of his associate degree in business administration.

The ambitious duo has a lot on their plates this semester. Carrying full course loads, they are also consumed in a culinary venture, launching a Belizien hot sauce recipe made from a tasty blend of spices, tomatoes, minced carrots and habanero peppers.

A business plan that will help get their product passed to the public is in the works, along with securing funding and a trademark.

It’s been a long process but their committed spirit isn’t letting much stand in their way, not even the upcoming holiday break between semesters. Both plan to sacrifice going home to work on their project instead.

Armed with creativity and enthusiasm, Petillo and Murray are all about taking risks to clinch their dreams.

Their first gamble was leaving their respective Caribbean paradises, coveted by tourists for their waves of golden beaches, and moving to the United States.

Murray left his home in Montego Bay Jamaica, an island known to tourists for its reggae and rum, hedonistic hideaways, tropical safaris and high-rise hotels of gleaming glass—when it was becoming more difficult for his family to survive economically.

He moved to the United States in 1999 with his brother and father, his mother following years later when they could afford to move her.

Petillo, a California native, moved to Belize, the English-speaking part of the Caribbean coast, when he was two. An accent bears the 14 years he spent there, an area known for its patchwork of luxury hotels reaching into the sky and its diver’s paradise of coral reefs.

He left in 2004 when an environment rife with soaring unemployment and urban crime interfered with his dreams of going to college and owning a resort and golf course in Belize some day. Murray has big aspirations too. He wants to run a record company.

Rebuilding Their Lives

In the United States, the two strangers who shared similar dreams started rebuilding their lives—Petillo in Queens and Murray in Poughkeepsie.

High school guidance counselors steered them in the same direction—Morrisville State College, where their business savvy soared and they merged into an inseparable team.

Their hot sauce is stirring up lots of excitement on the Morrisville State College campus and in the local community.

Nelson Farms, the college’s small-scale food processing plant, is among those helping Petillo and Murray embark on their dream.

During the summer, they bottled samples of their hot sauce at Nelson Farms where it will be produced. Nelson Farms assists people who have commercial food ideas and recipes and need help launching their products.

They already have a name in mind for their product, Black Orchyd, designated from Black Orchid, the national flower of Belize which is now endangered.

Once Petillo and Murray get their product trademarked with an official name and off the ground, they will be the youngest clients and the only Morrisville State College students marketing their own products at Nelson Farms. And they will join the world’s growing, aspiring young entrepreneurs.

Assistance is also coming from the Morrisville State College Entrepreneurship Institute, which is designing their Web site.

Guidance is coming from other sources too—professors and laboratory lessons.

In class, they’re learning about the business end of being an entrepreneur and they are gaining skills through hands-on opportunities involved with their course work.

Other things are happening, too.

Their visions are reaching beyond culinary scope into the fashion world where they are designing a clothing line they hope to sell in the college book store.

A portion of the proceeds they earn from their entrepreneurial endeavors will go toward a cause they are both vehemently passionate about.

“We want to give back to the college,” Murray said. “We want to donate some of our profit to the Morrisville College Foundation toward scholarships for students who have the drive but can’t afford college.”

In the future, Petillo and Murray also intend to reach out and help other fledgling entrepreneurs.

After they get the hot sauce and clothing line off of the ground, they have plenty of other ventures in mind—all entrepreneurial in nature and every one of them as a team.

Morrisville State College offers more than 75 bachelor and associate degrees and options. Considered to be one of the most technologically advanced colleges in the nation for its ThinkPad University program and wireless technology initiative, the college recently became the first in the nation to comprehensively replace landlines in residence halls with individual cellular phones. Morrisville State College was also chosen as one of the top five colleges in the nation for campus activities by Campus Activities magazine.

The Morrisville State College Norwich Campus offers associate degree programs in accounting, business, computer systems technology, office administration, liberal arts transfer, nursing, early childhood, criminal justice and human services to south central New York residents and employers. Students may also apply coursework to other associate or bachelor degrees at the main campus.