Fostering Successful Businesses in Your Community

How can Main Street organizations create a supportive, business-friendly community? 

What are the elements of a community that make it viable to attract business and expansion for the existing ones? 

And what are the trends that best produce the desired entrepreneurial advancement? 

These are some of the questions driving Entrepreneurial Ecosystems in Appalachia, a recently published suite of research reports and resources supporting entrepreneurial ecosystem development in Appalachia. However, the findings are beneficial to more than the southwest corner of Virginia. They are broadly applicable to encourage entrepreneurship and increase the probability of a successful business in your community, too.

The report makes clear that the development and maintenance of robust regional entrepreneurial ecosystems involves a complex mix of culture, history, markets, policy and environmental factors.  Referenced in the report, the Kauffman Foundation has developed “Seven Design Principles for Building Entrepreneurial Ecosystems” that provide excellent guidance and actionable ideas to support the ecosystem:

  1. Put Entrepreneurs Front and Center: Effective ecosystems are led “by and for” entrepreneurs.
  2. Foster Conversations: Effective ecosystems engage multiple partners in conversations that are focused on hope and action.
  3. Enlist Collaborators. Everyone is invited: Effective ecosystems engage partners from all walks of life, multiple disciplines and multiple sectors.
  4. Live the Values: Effective ecosystems do not have a “leader.” They are built on an invisible social contract of shared values.
  5. Connect people bottom-up, top-down, outside-in: Effective ecosystems bridge social boundaries and build tribes of trust.
  6. Tell a Community’s Authentic Story: Effective ecosystems champion role models and create stories out of strength.
  7. Start, be patient: Effective ecosystems take time to build.

The report is part of a larger project entitled Entrepreneurial Ecosystems in Appalachia. Additional project materials can be accessed at, as well as the project’s website:

For a Main Street-focused guide, check out Main Street America’s Entrepreneurial Ecosystems and the Role of Commercial Districts >>

Webinar – Business Booster: Recruitment and Retention Tactics for a Vibrant Downtown

On October 2, 12 – 1 p.m., Virginia Main Street is offering a free webinar focused on encouraging business growth in your downtown and helping existing businesses keep their doors open.  

One of the of the primary responsibilities of a Main Street program is to boost the economic growth of the business district.  With the rise of online shopping and convenient apps, where do you put the attention and resources to make downtown the first choice for shopping and dining?  As competition increases to capture spending, it is critical that your program understand its competitive advantages and develop targeted strategies for a sustainable retail base in downtown.

Check out this free webinar to help your Main Street program move from identifying unique market opportunities to developing resources and tools that form the foundation for growing existing businesses and attraction new ones to your commercial district.

About the speaker:

Matt Wagner, Ph.D., Vice President of Revitalization Programs, National Main Street Center

Matt Wagner has more than 20 years of non-profit management experience in downtown development, entrepreneurship, and tech-based development.  At the National Main Street Center, Matt is leading the launch of the renewed and re-imagined Four Point Approach, as well as helping the Center reach new communities with this refreshed framework.  Overseeing the Field Services team, Matt also leads the Center’s efforts to expand technical service offerings, and offer preservation-based economic revitalization services directly to communities.

Register now for this event >>


Farmville Shopping - Courtesy of Virginia Tourism Corporation

Farmville Shopping – Courtesy of Virginia Tourism Corporation

Make Your Downtown an Easy Target for New Business

Why should an entrepreneur choose your downtown for a new location? 

Selling your community to prospective entrepreneurs is challenging without the information they need to make location decisions. Throughout the last few years, Kansas’ Emporia Main Street refined an attractive and easily updateable business investment guide to help make the choice that much easier.  The guide sells the community and gives prospects the confidence to move forward quickly.

Executive Director Casey Woods, Emporia Main Street, says, “The Business Investment Guide has a tremendous impact on our ability to focus business and community development in a strategic, sustainable manner. Since the development of the guide, Emporia Main Street has been able to more effectively partner with a variety of individuals that now know how to invest in our downtown area, and the results of the implementation of the Business Investment Guide are significant. Downtown Emporia has had $48 million dollars in reinvestment in the last seven years (which is fairly significant for rural Kansas) and the Business Investment Guide played a significant role in the redevelopment and recruitment process.”

Emporia Main Street crafted a simple formula for the guide, Inspiration + Information + Presentation = Entrepreneurs and Progress:


Emporia Main Street, Kansas Business Investment Guide

Inspiration: Communicate current market opportunities with sales leakage and demographic information and support the data with the downtown vision, examples of successful Main Street projects and their economic impacts.

Information: Connect entrepreneurs to your local assets, like the available business incentives; maps showing pedestrian paths and business locations using color-coded maps; a full event calendar and statistics about attendance; facts about the local workforce; and professional resources and social outlets.

Presentation: Craft a sales pitch using clever titles that double as benefit statements and design the final guide to be attractive and inviting, then promote digital copies through social media and print customized versions for that target market entrepreneur.

Emporia Main Street wants your downtown to experience the same success attracting business investment, so they made a business investment guide shell available online, so you can get a jump start on yours.

Thank you, Emporia!


Attracting, Developing and Retaining Main Street Entrepreneurs

Entrepreneurs are generally pretty imaginative people, but some may need a creative venue and an audience to help them articulate their ideas. Staunton Creative Community Fund’s (SCCF) recent Ignite Staunton! campaign proved to be the creative outlet that entrepreneur Michael Reeps needed to make his unique business concept a reality.

Last fall’s Ignite Staunton!, partly funded by a Virginia Enterprise Initiative grant, was the community’s first “open mic night for creative ideas.” The presenters were given five minutes, 20 slides, which advanced every 15 seconds, whether ready or not, and an opportunity to pitch their most passionate ideas to an audience of friends, family and community members. The fun, fast-paced events were designed to be interactive, allowing audience members an opportunity to provide feedback to Ignite presenters and to vote for a $5,000 People’s Choice Award.  Reeps’ idea beat out more than 20 others for the $5,000 award, and he hopes to soon be fully operational with Staunton Fresh, an online farmers market that promises to connect local foods with local people.

Other Main Street communities are attracting, developing and retaining entrepreneurs by developing unique business incubators, like Altavista Art and Antiques, providing loans and grants for Main Street pop-up shops, coordinating with nonprofit organizations and government entities to provide micro-loans to Main Street entrepreneurs and starting dialogues about how to best develop entrepreneurs who want to participate in the Main Street market place in nontraditional formats like food trucks.

What is your community doing to attract, develop and retain those entrepreneurs who will make your Main Street a truly successful downtown marketplace?

Staunton to host Virginia Microenterprise Network conference

On September 30 and October 1,  the designated Virginia Main Street community of Staunton will host the annual Virginia Microenterprise Network  conference. This year’s  theme is Revitalizing Neighborhoods through Entrepreneurship.

The program includes a look at entrepreneurship in the Queen City;  the role of craft,  green building, and farm-based strategies in revitalization; identifying and supporting emerging neighborhood entrepreneurs; and guided insider tours of the community.

The day and a half conference will be a terrific follow-up for those who attended the Virginia Main Street Toolkit, Cultivating an Entrepreneurial Downtown. Use it as an opportunity to connect with micro-enterprise specialists as we put our heads together in exploring best practices in asset based community development and revitalization. 

The conference ends on a Friday afternoon–great timing to stay and shop, enjoy a show at the Blackfriars Playhouse and dine one of the historic district’s many restaurants.

For the full program and registration visit:

Guest blogger “Downtown Dan” Howe: Franklin awaits

There’s still time to register for the Virginia Main Street Summer Toolkit (until Monday), and the board and staff of Downtown Franklin, Inc. are eager to welcome you to our district.

We’re going to spend a day and a half (July 22 and 23) focused on “Cultivating an Entrepreneurial Downtown.”   The speakers are top-notch, and this is a vital topic for all of our communities. But enough about that.  We also hope to give you a real sense of our community during that time. Let’s talk Southampton County hospitality. 

On Wednesday evening, get here in time to enjoy the opening reception at Fred’s Restaurant.  Fred’s has been serving quality food since 1945, having rebuilt after our 1999 flood.  Speaking of the flood, while here you can take your picture standing at the high water marker.

Franklin is on the Blackwater River and we make the most of it at Barrett’s Landing.  On Thursday night, we’ll give you the VIP treatment at the We Be Jammin’ concert  in the waterside park.   While here, you’ll  visit the Franklin Business Incubator and you can also spend some time shopping Downtown Franklin on Friday afternoon.  Our merchants will appreciate your business, and you’ll be sure to find some treasures to take home with you.

See you Wednesday evening!

The entrepreneur as community problem solver

Give an entrepreneur a challenge and let them rise to it.  That strategy is fueling two transportation efficiency efforts, and it may provide a much needed model for community problem-solving. 

In one case, Oliver Kuttner, a Lynchburg entrepreneur, is responding to the fuel efficiency challenge made by Progressive Automotive’s X-Prize: to create a practical, safe car that can travel 100 miles on a gallon of gasoline. His company, Edison2, is working to make a vehicle as light and easy to move as possible.  With relatively little investment, the X-Prize is sparking many times the $10 million in investment from 40 teams across 11 countries. And it may result in a worldwide transportation paradigm shift.

Meanwhile, the Metropolitan Boston Transit Authority (which didn’t have $10 million dollars to address their problem), wanted to create a mobile phone application to  provide real-time information to bus riders.  To do it, they gave software developers free access to their data and recently convened 200 software entrepreneurs to hear about the needs of users. The prize for workable mobile applications: free rides for a year. The response was quick.  Now passengers have mobile phone and Web application that cost the authority very little, and ridership is up. 

What challenges are you facing in your community?  What goals do you have for your downtown?  Could there be an entrepreneur-based solution?  There might be a way you can spark local creativity, get the job done, and save money.