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.

Experiences that Bring Customers Back!

We’ve heard from several communities across the commonwealth that improving downtown hospitality is a high priority in making their downtowns a destination! With help from the Virginia Tourism Corporation, DHCD has put together a series of 20 workshops across the state called Delivering Memorable Experiences Downtown, which aims to strengthen business hospitality to provide an experience that creates return customers and positive and proactive word-of-mouth.

Delivering the workshop is Virginia Tech associate professor and author, Dr. Vincent Magnini, who was recently ranked one of the top 12 most prolific hospitality researchers worldwide. Dr. Magnini has published six books and more than 150 articles and reports. His projects typically include destination marketing plans, economic impact analyses, feasibility studies and visitor satisfaction tracking. Before his career in academia, Dr. Magnini worked on management teams at Marriott, Hyatt and Hilton Garden branded hotels in the Mid-Atlantic and Midwestern regions of the U.S.

This training is designed specifically for business owners – restaurant, retail, service – there is something for everyone. Learn how to generate good buzz for your businesses!

Sign up for a workshop near you! Contact Jessica Hupp at Jessica.hupp@dhcd.virginia.gov or 804-371-7121 to register. Do not wait to reserve your seat for these one-time events!

August 6: Hopewell
August 14: Petersburg
August 15: Farmville
August 20: Waynesboro
August 21: Staunton
August 22: Winchester
August 23: Culpeper
August 29: Strasburg
September 11: Altavista
September 12: Pulaski
September 13: Lynchburg
September 14: Vinton
September 18: Cape Charles
September 19: Franklin
September 24: Gloucester

What’s in a Name? The Different Types of Shared Work Spaces

We’ve all heard buzzwords such as incubators, co-working spaces and maker spaces. As the number of people working in the “gig” economy continues to grow, so will the places that support that industry. But what’s the difference in these spaces, and what do they provide not only to the entrepreneurs that use them, but the community as a whole? Over the next few weeks, we will discuss several different types of shared working spaces beginning with an overview of the most popular types.

Incubators – Incubators specialize in growing new and early-stage businesses. They typically provide resources like office space, legal counsel, accounting and other business guidance, possibly even funding opportunities. The types of incubators vary greatly from office/service-oriented businesses to high tech. There are examples of incubators in Franklin, Lynchburg and Norton.

Accelerators – Accelerator programs are more geared towards rapid-growth companies. Most involve a “cohort” of companies that have applied to the accelerator program, and the idea is to “accelerate” the companies to market within a three- to six-month period. Roanoke and Hampton both have great examples.

Coworking space – There are an estimated 10,000 co-working spaces in the United States. The co-working space allows entrepreneurs and “gig economy” workers to join together in a low-cost space instead of working in isolation. These spaces typically offer other services such as networking events, mentoring and learning opportunities, and the opportunity to develop partnerships with other businesses. Richmond and Harrisonburg have really been at the forefront of coworking.

Maker space – A maker space is a collaborative workspace that includes a variety of maker tools such as 3-D printers, laser cutters, letter presses, CNC machines, computers and other equipment. Maker spaces typically charge a monthly fee to members and are created for those who are creating products or who would like to learn how to “make” items. Next time you are in Lexington or Staunton, check out these great examples!

Stay tuned for more in-depth discussion about each type of shared workspace, including best practices, in upcoming posts.

Starting a New Business: Where to Begin?

We hear from many communities that they have aspiring entrepreneurs who would like to explore their business ideas but don’t know where to begin. Here are a few great resources for start-ups:

Waynesboro used funding from a Building Entrepreneurial Economies (BEE) grant from DHCD to create an online tool and one-stop shop to help entrepreneurs through the process. Their “GroWaynesboro” site helps entrepreneurs “Dream It. Plan It. Be It.” They have even developed an interactive guide to starting a business in Waynesboro.

Small Business Development Centers are a helpful resource for new and experienced entrepreneurs. The Virginia SBDC network provides customized counseling and education for small businesses. They provide one-on-one assistance for businesses, as well as small-group training on management topics that are important to small business owners. There are centers located in every region of Virginia, and you can click here to find the location nearest you.

“We have a wealth of tools with which to help entrepreneurs start, fund, analyze and grow their businesses,” says Sheri McGuire of the Longwood SBDC in Farmville. “We have a great team of consultants and staff who share a common experience in business and as entrepreneurs and will work with clients confidentially, one on one, to help them reach their goals.”

Mentorship is also important for start-ups, as seasoned entrepreneurs can help newbies by sharing experiences and lessons learned in starting and growing their business. Some localities have mentorship networks, like the Community Investment Collaborative in Charlottesville. They also received funding through the BEE program to expand their reach. There are also chapters all over Virginia for SCORE, which is the largest network of volunteer, expert business members who help small businesses get off the ground, grow and achieve their goals through education and mentorship.

If your community has an innovative program to assist budding entrepreneurs, we would like to hear about it! Email us at mainstreet@dhcd.virginia.gov to let us know what is happening in your community. You may also contact us if you have any questions about these resources or others that may be available to entrepreneurs in Virginia.

Opportunity SWVA pilots Kiva loan strategy

Community development partners across Southwest Virginia are piloting the use of the Kiva crowdfunding loan platform to help small businesses expand and add jobs. Opportunity SWVA, the region’s entrepreneurial ecosystem collaborative identified five businesses in need of small loans. Over the next two weeks, the businesses are working to raise a total of $43,000 in new capital.

Begun in 2005, Kiva is primarily known for global work connecting people to capital to alleviate poverty. With loans as small as $25, individuals can put critical resources in the hands of emerging entrepreneurs.

oppswvaOpportunity SWVA, comprised of more than 25 small business development support organizations, is working with businesses that have participated in community business launches or have an ongoing relationship with a partner organization. Opportunity SWVA acts as a Kiva Trustee, attesting to the character of the potential borrower.

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SWVA Kiva entrepreneurs Eva Beaule, Steven Harris, Beth Walker, Stephen Curd, and Jennifer Bailey with Virginia Secretary of Commerce and Trade Brian Ball (third from right).

The five pilot businesses are all creating jobs with loans of up to $10,000. Several directly support regional and community transformation strategies.

  • St. Paul Main Street business Sugar Hill Brewing Company is seeking a loan to purchase a food truck.
  • Glade Spring design house and manufacturer Garic Stephens is purchasing sewing equipment to hire additional workers.
  • Architectural steel detailing firm Appalachian Drafting is purchasing a software license to put an additional person to work creating 3D holograms of buildings.
  • In Norton, All Indoor Farm Store is expanding to create Stone Mountain Adventures, a business-diversification strategy supporting the outdoor recreation economy.
  • Advenuture Mendota is purchasing new kayaks to grow the capacity of the four-year-old outfitter, which began as a revitalization strategy in the Washington County community of Mendota.

Want to learn more about how Kiva works?  Try it out!  Support one of the SWVA loans. Then, as your region or community plans its own Kiva strategy, the Opportunity SWVA team will be happy to share with you what they learned.

Make a loan and watch videos of the entrepreneurs.
Track progress of Opportunity SWVA on Facebook.
Get all of the Opportunity SWVA Kiva tools at www.opportunityswva.org/kiva.

 

FastTrac Program Available for Entrepreneurs

You have an idea. That’s where it starts. Now what do you do with the idea? You could start a business, but how do you make it viable? The Kauffman FastTrac program can help you find the answer.

The Kauffman Foundation has been helping entrepreneurs for more than 50 years, and the FastTrac program has been designed as a flexible course with a solid framework to support you as you start a business and begin your journey to success. This immersive course is designed to provide information, tips, exercises and tools to help you go from concept to reality.

The course will help you:

  • Discover how your business concept matches your personal vision.
  • Align your business concept with a real-market opportunity.
  • Find your target market and discover your competitive advantage.
  • Determine the unique features and benefits to your product/service.
  • Learn how to set realistic financial goals for your business.
  • Define your company’s brand and marketing.
  • Learn how to manage business functions and develop an organizational culture.
  • Determine the steps to profitability.
  • Identify potential sources of funding for your business.
  • Launch your business.

The FastTrac program has been used to train more than 300,000 entrepreneurs throughout the past 25 years, and now an online version is available for free for the first time. For more information about the FastTrac program, click here.

Increase Your Small Business Success During National Small Business Week

Lexington is celebrating the start up of four new downtown businesses!

Launch Lex Pitch Event

On the evening of April 11, more than 100 fans witnessed a group of aspiring entrepreneurs pitch their best ideas for new downtown businesses in a one-night version of “Shark Tank,” with $60,000 in grants awarded.  Main Street Lexington hosted Launch Lex, which provided an eight-week business training program and culminated with the competition. The room sizzled, and the community is still reeling from the excitement.  Congratulations, entrepreneurs!

On Main Street, small business support like this is essential for a vibrant downtown.  If you don’t currently have anything to offer, the U.S. Small Business Administration has you covered.

The U.S. Small Business Administration and SCORE Association will host a free, three-day virtual conference during National Small Business Week. The conference will take place Tuesday-Thursday, May 1-3 from 12:30-6:30 p.m. ET each day.

The virtual conference offers all the best parts of an in-person conference, but without the hassle of traveling. Watch 12 educational webinars, get free business advice from mentors, pick up free information and resources from sponsors and network with fellow business owners.

The webinars include:

  • Hug Your Haters: How to Embrace Complaints and Keep Your Customers
  • Simple Steps to Choosing the Right Financing
  • Pop andPlay: How Opening a Pop-Up Shop can Help Launch Your Retail Brand
  • How to Get New and Repeat Business On Autopilot with Email Marketing
  • The U.S. Economic Outlook and its Impact on Small Businesses
  • Grow Your Business in 2018

Learn more and share with your community>>>