Accelerators: Taking Businesses to the Next Level

There is much confusion about the difference between incubators and accelerators, as the prevalence of both types of spaces has dramatically increased over the past 10 years. While both may provide entrepreneurs with similar services such as office space, capital, mentorship and other resources, there are several differences between the two.

Incubators generally do not have a competitive process to select the businesses that they serve, while accelerators do have a competitive process to develop “cohorts” of businesses, and they are typically selected on a cyclical basis. Also, the length of time that a company is located in an accelerator is less than an incubator, as most accelerators want the businesses to graduate within three to six months. Therefore, the assistance provided is very intensive and allows entrepreneurs to learn at a rapid or accelerated pace.

Accelerators also frequently work with angel investors that will take an equity stake in a company once it graduates from the program. This provides the business with capital to take their product to market quickly. Investors are also more interested in businesses that are involved in an accelerator program as they have had a more stringent vetting process as part of the cohort selection.

The benefit of an accelerator program for the business owner is the vast amount of resources that are provided by the accelerator. Accelerators are run by professionals who have helped new businesses overcome many of the stumbling blocks that startups face, as well as the presence of peers that are in the same phase of development. A potential drawback for some businesses is that they generally will need to exchange equity in their company for participation in an accelerator program.

There are several accelerators located in Virginia, including Lighthouse Labs in Richmond, RAMP in Roanoke and Ignition in Williamsburg.

Recognizing the Hard Work on Main Street: The Friendly City Fortune

At the recent 2018 Downtown Intersections in Harrisonburg, we continued our tradition of acknowledging outstanding achievements in comprehensive downtown revitalization efforts through Merit Awards. They recognize the hard work, dedication and success of Virginia’s Main Street communities and their achievements across the four points of the Main Street Approach®.  This is the second in a blog series to highlight each of the seven awards. 

A strong organizational foundation is key for a sustainable revitalization effort.  The focus is on ensuring that all organizational resources – partners, funding and volunteers – are mobilized effectively.  Accordingly, the Outstanding Fundraising Effort award goes to the Main Street organization that has displayed the most creativity and success in securing funds for its downtown projects.  From an effort well-played, Harrisonburg Downtown Renaissance (HDR) Director of Resources Lauren Huber and Executive Director Andrea Dono accepted the award for the Friendly City Fortune mega-raffle.

In 2017, HDR launched the new fundraiser where they sold $100 tickets and awarded $250,000 in prizes, which included cash, vacation packages, outdoor recreation vehicles, and several cars and SUVs.  Prizes were given away during Valley Fourth, Harrisonburg’s Fourth of July celebration hosted by HDR.  The Friendly City Fortune was their riskiest and most successful fundraiser to date. The goals were to earn unrestricted income, to find a new way to raise money from outside of the typical donor base and start being able to fund new and bigger Main Street projects.

Harrisonburg Downtown Renaissance achieved all of these goals and raised nearly $200,000 on top of their other traditional revenue streams.  The success of the inaugural raffle allowed HDR to fund more grants, beautify downtown, support more businesses and build a more sustainable organization.  Through the process, HDR sharpened their marketing skills and learned new ways to reach new audiences. As a result, brand awareness for Harrisonburg Downtown Renaissance and the Friendly City Fortune has hit an all-time high.

Congratulations Harrisonburg Downtown Renaissance (and all the prize winners)!

To learn more>>>

Webinar – Heart and Soul Field Guide: Fostering a Participatory Community

Do your residents and stakeholders feel engaged in their community?  Do they feel heard and included? And how does their engagement translate into stronger organizations and programming?

On Oct. 1, from noon-1 p.m., Virginia Main Street is offering a free webinar focused on a researched and field tested civic engagement method to build, stronger, healthier, and more economically vibrant small cities and towns – Community Heart & Soul.

The best way to build leaders and strengthen economies is to listen to and work closely with the people who live in the community.  The Orton Family Foundation has developed a step-by-step process that proactively includes your community in making decisions and taking action to improve the place where you all live, work, learn and play. This process focuses on getting everyone involved in finding ways to protect, restore, or enhance their community identity – its heart and soul – over the long term.

Speakers:

Caitlyn Davison, Senior Associate of Programs and Marketing, Orton Family Foundation

Leanne Tingay, Senior Associate of Programs, Orton Family Foundation

Autumn Vogel, Community Development Coordinator, My Meadville (Heart & Soul Program)

Register now for this event >>

Can’t join the live event? Register to receive the webinar recording.

“Through Heart & Soul we are finding common ground. Instead of being concerned about our differences, we are moving toward the things we meet on… The growth is going to be beautiful!”

~Annie Cooper, Community Volunteer, Essex, VT

 

Recognizing the Hard Work on Main Street: CenterFuse Co-working

At the recent 2018 Downtown Intersections in Harrisonburg, we continued our tradition of acknowledging outstanding achievements in comprehensive downtown revitalization efforts through Merit Awards. They recognize the hard work, dedication and success of Virginia’s Main Street communities and their achievements across the four points of the Main Street Approach®.  This is the first of a blog series to highlight each of the seven award winners. 

Historic Manassas Inc. Executive Director Debbie Haight accepted the Outstanding Business award for CenterFuse Coworking.  Years in the making and the first in historic downtown Manassas, CenterFuse is both an incubator and co-working space that provides new and emerging businesses with an environment that will support their start-up phase and increase the likelihood of success.  It functions as a for-profit business, but was created by and is under the auspice of Historic Manassas Inc., a 501(c)3 nonprofit corporation and pioneer of the local Main Street program.

CenterFuse focuses on science and technology while cultivating other compatible businesses in the district.  The facility offers flexible leases, shared-use, and common office equipment, direct business assistance, mentoring, networking and access to capital.  The 3,800 square foot space includes a mix of offices, dedicated workstations, and open space for networking.  It also provides a roster of entrepreneurship education and mentorship programs, among others.

Since opening in May 2017, the incubator is seeing steady growth in the participating startup’s business development who will soon be ready to expand or move into vacancies downtown. While rising businesses are in the space, they contribute to an entrepreneurial culture in downtown and to the economic vitality of other local businesses and residential properties.

Congratulations Historic Manassas Inc. and CenterFuse Coworking!

To learn more >>>

Regional Rev Up: Opportunity Analysis – Effective Design

How can your downtown function better for residents, merchants, and visitors? And how do you identify opportunities in the physical environment to make your town a destination, drawing customers and revenue to the area?

On Oct. 11, 17, and 18 in Bristol, Blackstone and Gloucester, the fall edition of the Regional Rev Up promises to load you up with the tools you need to implement a people-centered downtown design process.

Effective downtown design supports a community’s transformation by enhancing the physical and visual elements of downtown while capitalizing on the unique assets that set the commercial district apart.  As a community, you need to bring together your stakeholders to plan what physical amenities will bring energy and dollars to the area. The type of design choices you make, and the variables that you weigh for making your decision, is the process known as opportunity analysis.

This workshop will explore a range of issues that impact the physical characteristics of downtown and provide you with a road map for navigating the opportunities involved in implementing holistic design principles to ensure they complement the overall strategy for your downtown.

Join us for this half-day workshop that will be educational, inspiring and fun!  Kathy Frazier, Principal of architecture and planning firm Frazier Associates, will lead the discussion and activities.

Registration is only $15 to cover lunch from a local eatery.  Registration for each Rev Up session closes one week prior to the event, register now to reserve your spot!

Register now! >>>

Host a Finding Main Street book club

Finding Main Street Facebook Event
Singer-songwriter Dar Williams launched Virginia Main Street’s Finding Main Street book club at the 2018 Downtown Intersections with a performance and talk on “Thinking in Bridges.”

“We think we have so much divisiveness,” she said. “But the opposite of divisiveness is not unity. It is collaboration.”

Williams found plenty of collaboration in the successful communities profiled in her placemaking and community development book, What I Found in a Thousand Towns. These are towns she has seen rise and thrive over her nearly three decades of touring. Williams asserts that they created “positive proximity” by:

  • Creating spaces that foster loose forms of communication and connection across residents.
  • Undertaking collective identity building projects that override the differences of the individuals contributing to them.
  • Welcoming the contributions of all willing citizens.

Across Virginia, the Finding Main Street Book Club will explore the strategies at work in Main Street communities. A toolkit is available in a tab at the top of this page. It currently includes:

Beginning on September 4, videos will be added weekly to highlight chapter concepts at work in Virginia’s Main Street network. In spring 2019, follow-up videos will showcase community conversations resulting from the book clubs. For the 2019 Downtown Intersections Idea Pitch, communities will be invited to propose projects inspired by the book and compete for funding to support the projects.

If you’d like to talk about book club ideas or the benefits of hosting one, contact your Main Street representative or Doug Jackson at 804-418-9878 or douglas.jackson@dhcd.virginia.gov. Remember you’re never in this alone–reach out to your likely partners locally, including book stores and libraries, and see what you can get started.

The book club model was piloted in Roanoke in the fall of 2017, where chapter discussions highlighted local leaders and organizations undertaking strategies featured in the book. Find more information from the pilot, including press and session descriptions, at bookcityroanoke.com.

Finding Main Street is a project of the Virginia Main Street Program at the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development with support from Virginia Community Capital, Virginia Tourism Corporation, Virginia Humanities , and Book City ★ Roanoke.

Incubators: Hatching Ideas into Businesses

Many new entrepreneurs find the process of growing their business as a lonely trek that takes more work than anticipated. Over the past few years, business incubators have helped these entrepreneurs grow and scale their businesses by providing support such as office space, training, mentorship, networking and even financing, in some cases.

Incubators can be sponsored by several types of organizations including nonprofit corporations, for-profit ventures and academic institutions. The idea of most incubators is to help businesses grow and “graduate” out of the incubator and into their own space within one or two years.

Some of the benefits to entrepreneurs are:

1. Helping fledgling companies save on operating costs. The shared facility allows clients to share in the overhead costs associated with business operations. Incubators may also help link businesses to capital, whether that is venture capital or other financing vehicles.

2. Providing a mentorship program that pairs an entrepreneur with an established executive with experience to help guide them through the start-up phase of their operation. This experience can help entrepreneurs avoid some of the pitfalls associated with their new endeavor.

3. The clients within an incubator can also develop relationships with other entrepreneurs, and the networking that comes from those relationships can be invaluable to their business. They can provide encouragement to each other and help solve problems.

Incubators benefit communities by helping new businesses prosper, which can lead to stable jobs for locals. Many new entrepreneurs will stay in the community and grow, filling vacant spaces and providing a lasting impact.

The Virginia Business Incubation Association is a good resource to learn more about incubators and what is available in your locality, as well as information and events geared toward the support of entrepreneurs in Virginia.