How Danville Built their Ecosystem (Hear the full story over Happy Hour at the Main Street Now Conference!)

Want to build a robust entrepreneurial ecosystem? The City of Danville has certainly figured out how to do exactly that! Beginning in 2019, the River District Association (RDA) started their exciting ecosystem building journey by receiving a Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) Community Business Launch (CBL) grant, totaling $45,000, to attract new entrepreneurs and businesses interested in expanding in its main thoroughfare. The program, which they named Dream Launch, would go on to place and expand businesses on Main, Craighead and Union Streets in downtown Danville, with the assistance of their initial four leadership team partners: the City of Danville, Danville Community College, The Launch Place and the Longwood Small Business Development Center.

After a successful first round, with three new businesses and one expanding business from RDA’s initial Dream Launch, the organization realized there was a missed opportunity to assist potential entrepreneurs that didn’t fit the Dream Launch bill, so to speak. In response, Rev-Up was born in 2020 through a partnership in the Dan River Region Entrepreneur Ecosystem, which fed from Dream Launch Bootcamp participants that wished to open in the city or county but outside the RDA service district. Then, in 2021, RDA expanded their entrepreneurial support programming to include Get Boosted (focused on existing businesses looking to grow) and just this year added Start-Up Slam (focused on business ideation) and Catalyst Grant (focused on business concept testing).

Since 2019, RDA has supported 350 Dream Launch Bootcamp participants, presented 129 Dream Launch Certifications, provided 18 Dream Launch business awards, totaling $375,000, two new Business Catalyst Awards, totaling $17,500, 10 GET Boosted awards, totaling $45,000, and has even begun consulting with other localities in its region interested in taking on CBL programs. When asked what the secret sauce to entrepreneurial ecosystem building was, Diana Schwartz, Executive Director of RDA, says it all boils down to partnerships.

“What started out as a $45,000 grant opportunity through DHCD’s Community Business Launch grant program has turned into an entire slate of programming for entrepreneurs and start-ups through our organization. In addition, it provided one of the key metrics that we were able to leverage for additional funding to staff and support our larger regional entrepreneur ecosystem. We had no idea that we would create almost a half-million dollars in direct support, with over a million in ancillary impacts from the programming we provide. Never underestimate the power of one great idea, and know that this is something we did not do alone. It takes a village, literally, to make these programs successful.” – Diana Schwartz, Executive Director, River District Association

Today, RDA continues to seek out partnerships in the community that support new entrepreneurs and the sometimes tumultuous search for early stage, seed funding. Just this year, during RDA’s 2022 Dream Launch, the organization partnered with two local banks to expand local entrepreneurs’ access to capital, including American National and Movement Bank. Both of these traditional lending institutions have agreed to waive the requirement to be in business for two years to access lines of credit and other supports, which is an incredible hurdle for most start-up companies. In addition, Movement Bank is also providing two $2,500 cash awards to 2022 Dream Launch participants.

Want to learn more about how Danville and RDA connected the dots to create a robust ecosystem? Please join us on Sunday, May 15th from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. as we kick-start the 2022 Main Street Now Conference activities with an Ecosystem Building Happy Hour at Wong Gonzalez (412 E. Grace Street)!

Click here to view RDA’s Start-Up Tool Kit!