Pop-Up Altavista 2.0: Cultivating Local Entrepreneurs with an Educational Business Launch Competition

How can Main Street help entrepreneurs achieve a business expansion or start their own business?

The National Main Street Center’s Main Street Story of the Week features Pop-Up Altavista 2.0, Altavista On Track’s (AOT) second business launch competition.  Emelyn Gwynn, Main Street Coordinator for Altavista, highlights the program, which kicked off September, 2016.  Building off of AOT’s inaugural competition in January 2015, this second iteration is designed to lead local entrepreneurs through a nine-week educational program to help them plan for their business’ future.  This time they partnered with Virginia’s Small Business Development Center (SBDC) and utilized a program called GrowthWheel to create the curriculum.   Pop-Up 2.0 culminates with a “Business Expo Night” event where participants pitch their business ideas to judges for the opportunity to receive funding.  The winning businesses will be determined by the strength of the business plan, sustainability of the business, and the need for the business in the community.

Learn more >>


Three Steps to Refresh Your Main Street Strategies for Visible Results

How can your local Main Street program better use limited resources to create vibrant, people-centered places?

The Main Street Approach has been a successful model for NMSC06_WEBBANNER_F_APPROACHolder commercial district revitalization for more than 35 years and is used to revitalize and manage downtowns in more than 2,000 communities across the U.S.  The Four Point approach offers a simple guide to comprehensively address a complex and sometimes chaotic downtown environment.  While that is true, it is a challenge to get the equation just right to catalyze reinvestment, create jobs and create a better quality of life, and especially to do it just right.

Throughout the past few years, the National Main Street Center has conducted surveys, convened a task force of experts and engaged closely with the Main Street network to develop a revised framework.  This revision, called the Four Point Refresh, is the same approach, just sharpened, made more strategic and with a focus on visible results.

  1. Identify the Community Vision for Success – This essential step provides a foundation for outlining the community’s own identity, expectations and ideals, while building off of market opportunities.
  2. Create Community Transformation Strategies – Work together to identify strategies that provide a clear sense of priorities and direction.  These strategies align with the four key areas: economic vitality, effective promotion, quality design and a sustainable organization.  Typically communities will find two to three strategies to help reach a community vision.
  3. Implement and Measure – To succeed, the effort must be able to demonstrate the wise use of resources, which translates to real change on the ground: new jobs added to Main Street, new businesses open, buildings redeveloped and certainly other metrics of success.

Find out more about how to make your local revitalization efforts better, stronger and faster by coming to the next Virginia Main Street training. VMS offers trainings throughout the year, and there is sure to be one near you.


Economic Gardening Strategies

In these tough economic times when communities are struggling to retain existing businesses and to prevent more storefronts from closing up, attracting new businesses that will create new job opportunities is extremely challenging. Many communities are working hard to overcome these ills by creating an environment that fosters entrepreneurship. Research has shown that small businesses are the leading job creators in this slow recovery. 

In his article titled “Fostering entrepreneurialism: Making economic gardening work downtown,” Chuck Eckenstahler lists seven things to consider when developing an “economic gardening strategy.”

1.       Help surmount the hurdles – Provide assistance with navigating through and completing legal and regulatory requirements of establishing or expanding new businesses.

2.      Host entrepreneurial cafes – For many new entrepreneurs, traditional physical space is not as important as it once was. Providing a ‘space’ (bricks and mortar or cyber) where entrepreneurs can network and share ideas, if applicable to the locality, should be part of the strategy.

3.       Carve out opportunities within the economic landscape – It is important for both the entrepreneur, as well as the host community, to identify the existing supply and unmet demand of retail goods and services. This typically lies on the shoulder of the entrepreneur, however, Eckenstahler and many economic development practitioners would argue that to ensure successes, this should be a shared responsibility.

4.       Raise capital to create a Shark TankMany businesses fail due to lack of capital. “Community economic development strategies may require assembling social venture capitalists,or other creative financing mechanisms like crowdfunding.

5.       Support population diversity – “Create support programs that celebrate population diversity and embrace groups that have a high propensity to form new businesses.”

6.       Create a “Match-up” marketplace – Create opportunities to match the “entrepreneurs’ needs with available support capacities.”

7.       Celebrate success – Create a media campaign that regularly highlights new business formations and promotes the locality/region as one that supports new business startups.

“Adding some or all of these suggestions to your economic gardening strategy will enrich the soil for planting the seeds of new business.”

Virginia Enterprise Zone 2013 Designation Round

DHCD’s Virginia Enterprise Zone (VEZ) program has just finished facilitating three regional how-to-apply workshops to spread the word about the upcoming designation round.  On October 1, 2012, the program will begin accepting applications to fill the positions of two zones that are due to expire at the end of this year.

Much like VMS, the Enterprise Zone program is a partnership between state and local government that can be an effective tool in stimulating job creation, private investment and revitalization in your community, especially when promoted as part of a comprehensive package of economic development efforts.  In fact, several Main Street communities currently have EZ designations.  To see which ones, check out the VEZ Map.

To learn more about how the Enterprise Zone program could become an instrument in your community’s economic development toolbox, visit the Enterprise Zone website or contact Lauren Fink at Lauren.Fink@dhcd.virginia.gov.

Entrepreneurs. Better with age?

Entrepreneurs are the lifeblood of the economy. They’re innovators, experimenters and risk takers, the driving force behind capitalism’s “perennial gale of creative destruction,” in economist Joseph Schumpeter’s evocative metaphor.

So says Chris Farrell in this week’s Bloomberg Businessweek.

But Mr. Farrell goes on to remind us that entrepreneurs are not only young, brash, rule breakers.  They also include older, more seasoned innovators.  Fully 20.9% of all new entrepreneurial ventures are started by people 55-64 years old.

These entrepreneurs may be forming enterprises because they finally have the security to follow their dream, or maybe they were laid off and found finding a new, challenging job toward the end of their career arc to be difficult.  Others may be looking for a little more control of their work-life balance as they make a 20- or 30-year transition to retirement.

Regardless of their reasons, there businesses may be well suited to the scale of your downtown.

Well-wired Winchester is as close to Dulles Airport, in terms of travel time, as downtown D.C. and is better hooked into the Ashburn “home” of the Internet than almost any place in the world.  A transitioning entrepreneur might find the housing, rent and tax rates beneficial, while cherishing the more relaxed lifestyle that a pedestrian-oriented comercial district, closely abutted by historic residential neighborhoods, can provide.

USAToday printed a similar article last month, and Slate published one as far back as 2010, detailing reasons why older entrepreneurs may be more successful, not the least of which is access to capital.

Farrell, too, gives several reasons that older entrepreneurs may have a leg up on their younger competition, but a successful community could use both.  Making sure you are providing the necessary tools and amenities for all entrepreneurs is vital.

Guest Blogger: Jennifer Heyns on Warrenton’s Emerging Latitudes

When people shop locally, they know they are helping to support their community and the shop owners who live there. At Warrenton’s Latitudes Fair Trade, shoppers know they are supporting not only a local business, but also artisans from developing countries around the world.

Latitudes buys handcrafted items from overseas either directly or through a wholesale distributer, ensuring that much of the profit reaches the hands of the original creator. Each item it sells is unique, with deep cultural ties to its country of origin. It not only sells jewelry, scarves, and bags, but also practical household items such as baskets, vases, and table linens.

Latitudes owner Lee Owsley is proud to support artists in less-fortunate countries. Her business allows both buyers and sellers to feel good, she says, because “instead of improving their lives and the lives of their children via handouts or illegal means, these producers are able to live with the self-respect of knowing they are engaged in an honest and fulfilling enterprise.” She believes each item sold represents an artist digging himself out of poverty with dignity.

Latitudes ties the community of Warrenton with communities from around the world—economically and culturally. In Warrenton, it represents the community’s own entrepreneurial spirit. Owsley is a fulltime teacher, who started her business with a temporary store set up for the holiday season. She partnered with a full-time artist in sharing the space. “It really helped me to feel that I wasn’t alone in this,” said Owsley, who advises anyone hesitant about opening a shop to find others who can help with costs, labor and courage.

For more information about the store and the artisans it helps to support, please visit their Web site at www.latitudesfairtrade.com.

New Year’s Resolution Poll

While the typical New Year’s resolution is abandoned somewhere around the long Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday weekend, there is a certain feeling of “anything’s possible” in the air during these first few weeks of January.  Now really can be a good time to set some goals.  Go ahead, think big.  If you don’t stretch yourself to do more, why bother?

Take a few pointers from weight-loss experts and put these strategies to work in your downtown to make your resolutions a reality:

Write it down – Make sure your goals are clear and quantitative.  Write them down so you can track your success.  It also makes it more real when you can see it on paper, or better yet, chart it on a graph.

Tell a friend – Make sure people know what you are going to do.  They can hold you accountable and keep you on track. They may even offer to help!

Make it reasonable – As it didn’t take two weeks to pack on an extra 25 lbs, the historic facades in your district weren’t all covered over in a matter of a few months.  Go ahead and challenge yourself, but don’t expect to have a completely rehabbed, fully occupied downtown by June, either. 

Pace yourself – As we age, it seems the years fly by, but in reality a year is a long time.  Break out your big goals into some chunks so you can have incremental success along the way.

Now, take the first VMS poll of the new year.