By now, you’ve probably heard of the success Marion Downtown! has had with its small business “Pop Up” Boot Camp entrepreneur program. If you have not, you are definitely missing out on all the excitement!
“Pop Up Marion” offers up to $5,000 for aspiring downtown entrepreneurs, offsetting startup expenses like rent and utilities for the first six months of operation, in exchange for those businesses committing to a strong mentorship program during those formative months. Modeled after the trend in larger cities where businesses “pop up” in long-vacant spaces for a short time to create buzz and excitement, Marion’s program is more far-reaching. The success of Marion’s Pop Up program has generated excitement throughout Virginia and is the talk of many other designated Main Street communities.
“The object is not to have someone open for six months and close their doors,” said Marion’s Community and Economic Development Executive Director Ken Heath. “It is to expand that idea and use the grant funds provided to us from Virginia Main Street and Wells Fargo, as well as to use training, along with our low-interest loan pool, as tools to long-term viability and success.”
Since the project started in the fall of 2012, our downtown has transformed dramatically. We have lowered our downtown vacancy rate from 17 percent to an astonishing 6.5 percent in less than two years. We have trained a total of 124 entrepreneurs, and 40 have graduated from the program since it began in 2012. We have sold four downtown buildings and filled eight storefronts. We have created 14 new businesses, as well as seven new indirect businesses. With the new businesses, we have added more than 80 new jobs to the community!” – Marion Downtown! Executive Director Olivia Hall
With the completion of the fifth round of Boot Camp, four entrepreneurs presented their business plans to a panel of judges in hopes of receiving grant funds to assist with starting their own business. One business has been selected in this round, Debra Parks and the New Horizons Counseling Center located on Lee Street in downtown Marion. Additionally, the three remaining businesses will continue working with the team on their business plans.
“We could not be more excited to have Debra’s business join the downtown Marion business family,” said Marion Downtown President James McNeil. “This partnership between our organization, the town of Marion, Virginia Main Street, People In., USDA Rural Development and Wells Fargo will continue to offer similar opportunities because we are already planning another round in June 2013.”
The next round will be a four-week intensive program that will start the first week in June and will focus on generating more retail businesses in downtown, as well as focusing on facade improvements within downtown.