Reviewing two years of the Community Navigator Pilot Program
From December 2021 to November 2023, a consortium of six entrepreneurial support organizations collaborated to support Black & Brown and women entrepreneurs in the Shenandoah Valley. Under the SBA-funded Community Navigator Pilot Program, these six organizations impacted over 3,000 entrepreneurs and invested over $500,000 into local Black- and/or women-owned startups and small businesses. After two years of close collaboration, the consortium reflects on their shared outcomes and calls for more funding to help build the support infrastructure for minority-owned businesses in rural America.
The Shenandoah Valley Community Navigator Consortium operated as a Hub and Spoke model and consisted of:
Shenandoah Valley Community Navigator in numbers
2,941 Entrepreneurs trained
The Hub and Spokes provided a total of 370 training sessions that lasted from one to four hours. In other words: On average, every other day over the last two years a training session (workshop, webinar, etc.) was available to minority business owners in the Shenandoah Valley. 2,941 entrepreneurs took advantage of these in-person and virtual training opportunities. The most sought-after training topics were:
Financial literacy and training (bookkeeping, accounting, financial management in particular)
Marketing your business (i.e. identifying & reaching your ideal customer, Canva tutorials, video marketing, website messaging)
Founder wellbeing and mental health
Three Spokes combined forces and capital to offer a virtual four-part financial education workshop series that 32 entrepreneurs from Winchester to Lexington took advantage of. It’s this type of ecosystem collaboration that exemplifies the idea that a rising tide lifts all boats.
We learned over these two years that early-stage entrepreneurs in particular prefer group settings to one-on-one counseling sessions. Luckily, the majority of our Spokes were well-positioned to pivot and meet the needs of the community. Shenandoah University, for example, scaled back its 1:1 counseling offers and instead provided 132 training sessions (lasting an average of two hours) to more than 1,300 entrepreneurs.
Looking for entrepreneurial training opportunities and workshops in the Shenandoah Valley?
1,118 hours in 1:1 counseling
333 local entrepreneurs took advantage of one-on-one business counseling provided by the consortium. On average, each entrepreneur benefited from 3.5 hours of dedicated 1:1 advisory through one of the Spokes. The main topics for these one-on-one advisory sessions were
Business technical assistance (starting and operating a business, marketing, sales)
Grant and lending applications
Over the two years, it became obvious that later-stage entrepreneurs (post-startup stage), and solo founders in particular, benefit from dedicated one-on-one support from an experienced advisor and/or entrepreneur. This individual support is key in helping founders weather the tides of entrepreneurship but it also comes with a greater need for capacity among Spokes.
Another highlight of the program was the referrals that Spokes were able to make. Several entrepreneurs worked with one Spoke and - once they had exhausted the local support - were able to move into a program with a different Spoke to tackle their next stage of growth.
$504,549 injected into the ecosystem
When the consortium launched this program, the goal was to inject $500,000 of capital into the ecosystem through grants and loans. The group was able to give out $180,000 in repayable microloans and provide $321,000 in grants to under-resourced entrepreneurs. These grants are non-repayable and were largely raised through philanthropic contributions from the local community.
Over the two years of the program, the consortium received requests for a total of $993,217 highlighting once more that the demand for capital heavily outweighs what’s available to rural startups and small businesses.
To see what sources of capital are available to entrepreneurs and small businesses in the Shenandoah Valley, view this list on Valley Business Compass:
Meet the entrepreneurs
Kiki Scott, Embracing Fire Designs
Lakeya Scott (Kiki) started Embracing Fire Designs in October 2018 out of her home. In the early days, she focused solely on custom t-shirt production. This was a side hustle for Kiki that she started after her divorce. The extra income, even small, was important for her family as she was a single parent with three school-aged kids. After being referred by RISE in Waynesboro, Kiki joined B-Cubed in January 2023.
Kiki immediately took advantage of almost every workshop B-Cubed had to offer and threw herself into her growing business. Based on her dedication, Kiki was chosen to participate in a three-month sales training as one of three businesses. Due to her hard work, the business boomed after the sales training. Kiki called the training “life-changing.” She continues to take advantage of B-Cubed offerings and has become a rising star in the Shenandoah Valley entrepreneur scene. She spoke at the Shenandoah Valley Entrepreneurship Summit 2023 and has been a featured guest speaker in two different Launch Harrisonburg entrepreneur cohorts.
Since joining B-Cubed, Embracing Fire Designs sales have risen 55% in 2023 vs. 2022. Kiki was able to quit her full-time job in car sales to run Embracing Fire Designs full-time. She moved production out of her home into her own production space. As Kiki said, “It’s been an incredible year but it wasn’t done alone! I have you guys to thank for helping me get to where I am today! Very grateful for B-Cubed!”
Shara McGee, Sweet McGee
Owner Shara McGee started Sweet McGee Desserts in February 2020 and joined B-Cubed in July 2022. Shara has thrown herself into her business and taken full advantage of the offerings from B-Cubed. She was a part of the sales training cohort, meeting every week for three months to develop her sales techniques, and participated in LAUNCH HARRISONBURG’s 10-week entrepreneur class. Since joining B-Cubed, she has attended almost every workshop. She has worked one-on-one with our Quickbooks consultant and has also taken advantage of the free one-year Chamber membership, displaying her business at Chamber events.
Shara has shown incredible engagement and dedication to the process and her business. Since joining B-Cubed she has seen her sales increase 60%. As Shara said, “B-Cubed has helped my business tremendously! The support, workshops, connections, and the other participants within the cohorts, both past and present, have made a world of difference. I have had access to great knowledge as well as community resources. I don't know where my business would be without the B-Cubed program and I don't want to imagine it. I know everything that the program provides is not there for anyone, but having the guidance of knowing where to look, and a collection of who to talk to, helped me a lot. And as far as fellow cohort members, both past and present, it has been nice to be on the journey with someone else and to know that we have common goals and we are determined to succeed and support each other while doing it.”
An ecosystem in the making
With the end of the Community Navigator Pilot Program, the funding for dedicated support for Black & Brown and women entrepreneurs in the Shenandoah Valley has dried up.
The ecosystem, however, continues to operate.
Even without dedicated resources to fund this critical work, all members of the consortium are committed to reducing the barriers to entrepreneurial support, particularly for historically under-resourced entrepreneurs in our region.
“Overall the Hub and Spoke model has worked very well in bringing the spokes together and generating conversation. Those were sometimes difficult conversations, but important ones towards achieving future growth for all the parties involved. The spokes definitely learned from each other. In B-Cubed’s instance, we even partnered with three other spokes on three different initiatives. These partnerships never would have occurred without the Hub and Spoke model.” says Peirce MacGill of B-Cubed in Harrisonburg.
Gabrielle Cash, project manager at the Walker Program, adds, “The Community Navigator Program has significantly enhanced The Walker Program, providing invaluable opportunities that greatly benefited our operations: We cultivated meaningful relationships with other Spokes that we might not have encountered otherwise, considering the extensive commitments that keep us occupied within our respective communities. The Shenandoah Community Capital Fund played a crucial role in facilitating ongoing communication and resource-sharing among these spokes and continues to do so even after the program ended.
All in all, this program has exposed us to a multitude of possibilities concerning assistance for Black business owners in our community. We eagerly anticipate leveraging these insights in future opportunities, building upon the progress and traction achieved over the two years.”
While this program was far from perfect, we are proud of the outcomes our consortium has achieved over the last two years. On top of the many quantitative metrics, we were able to
Develop a peer network of different entrepreneurial support organizations throughout the Valley that created more equitable access to resources and opportunities for Black & Brown and women entrepreneurs.
Build capacity among individual Spokes to offer consistent training and counseling, become a voice for minority entrepreneurs in their community and - in one case - launch a microloan program.
Gain a deeper and more nuanced understanding of what accessible entrepreneurial support in the Shenandoah Valley - and likely rural America - needs to look like to be effective.
As a network of dedicated entrepreneurial supporters, we hope to build on this foundation by raising significant funding to continue to build local capacity and by bringing more supporters on board.
If you would like to help fund these efforts or become an active member of this growing support ecosystem, please contact SCCF.