Recognizing the Hard Work on Main Street: Sandwich Sampler Competition

At the recent 2018 Downtown Intersections in Harrisonburg, we continued the 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 point of the Main Street Approach®.  This is the third in a blog series to highlight each of the seven awards.

Promoting Main Street takes many forms, but the ultimate goal is to position the downtown as the hub of the community and economic activity, while creating a positive image that showcases a community’s unique characteristics.  This next award honors the best downtown restaurant promotion designed to generate foot-traffic to local eateries within the district.  Downtown Blackstone Inc. Executive Director Zachary Whitlow accepted the 2018 Best Downtown Restaurant Event award for the first annual Sandwich Sampler Competition.

This past spring, the first Sandwich Sampler Competition was held in downtown Blackstone’s Town Square.  The community was invited to sample signature sandwiches from participating local restaurants and take part in the voting for the best sandwich, crowning Blackstone’s Sandwich King or Queen.  The event was designed to showcase the quality of local cuisine and entice visitors to dine at the downtown eateries.  Downtown retail also gained exposure and amassed return customers through a cross-promotional campaign of special-offer coupons.

For the inaugural year, only 100 tickets were available for purchase, and it was a sell-out crowd! With a fine selection of local sandwich options, the competition was fierce, but the winner was quite clear. The Corner Kitchen won with a distinctive house-made strawberry ice cream sandwich.  While the inaugural event generated a small amount of revenue, it has the ability to become a profitable signature event. Given the vast amount of positive reviews, the competition will become a bigger and better annual event.

Congratulations Downtown Blackstone!

Visit downtown Blackstone for the upcoming Regional Rev Up: Opportunity Analysis – Effective Design, Oct. 17, 2018.

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: 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 >>>

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.