Fans of television reality shows are familiar with Brent Ridge of Sharon Springs as one of the partners in “The Fabulous Beekman Boys,” a show carried by the Cooking Channel. What they may not know is that he didn’t get to where he is without a lot of hard work, some risk-taking, a knack for product development and believing in his ideas.
Ridge is now sharing his real-life experiences at the State University College of Agriculture and Technology at Cobleskill, where he works as a part-time adjunct professor of marketing principles. He oversees two sections, and is in the classroom every Monday, Wednesday and Friday that the college is in session.
“My primary reason for doing this is I’ve invested in our community and I want to see our community thrive,” Ridge said in an interview. The only way we can achieve that growth is to get young people to start businesses here. My hope is to get students to realize that there is opportunity here for them and they can stay in the area and have successful businesses here.”
Entrepreneurship has been the speciality of Ridge and the other half of the Beekman Boys, Josh Kilmer-Purcell. The two married last summer, six years after they purchased the Beekman mansion in Sharon Springs as a weekend retreat.
Ridge, a physician, had been working as an executive at Healthy Living, a branch of publisher Martha Stewart’s Omnimedia Inc. Kilmer-Purcell was an advertising executive. When the economy collapsed in 2008, both men lost their jobs within a month of each other.
They decided that if they were going to save the Beekman property they would need to turn it into a working farm — one that would turn a profit.
Soon, they would be working at the Sharon Springs home with a neighbor with a herd of goats, and they combined their product development and marketing skills to come up with a line of goat’s milk beauty products, selling them in stores with wealthy clientele, such as Henri Bendel and Anthropology.
They formed a company called Beekman 1802 and branched into gourmet foods, home decor and gardening.
Within two years they were discovered reality show producers who developed the Fabulous Beekman Boys for Discovery, the network that launched the program.
Meanwhile, Ridge and Kilmer-Purcell forged a relationship with the Cobleskill college through their involvement in the Sharon Springs Harvest Festival and their affiliation with landscape classes helping with the restoration of a community park in the village.
He taps into the students’ own surroundings — their campus — to acquaint them with the fundamentals of marketing, assigning them to develop a marketing plan for the college. He said he advises them to always look for new ways to devise opportunities that will advance their business.
“I really believe that our SUNY campuses can be great resources for the people living in the towns near them,” Ridge said.
He also encourages students to consider that the level of achievement they attain in their careers reflects on the college that they chose to attend. “The more successful they are in their careers, the more valuable a SUNY Cobleskill education and their diploma will be,” he said.