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  • Writer's pictureAnika Horn

Creating serendipity: Field notes from the ecosystem

What the Ecosystem team has been up to

Have you ever felt like you were in the right place at the right time? Have you run into someone at a coffee shop, farmers market, or grocery store and had a conversation that changed the trajectory of your life or business?

As ecosystem builders, we know that this type of serendipity is essential to a thriving community and we work hard to create more spaces for these serendipitous encounters to take place. With COVID (hopefully) on its way out and spring around the corner, we’re embracing the power of in-person events to bring entrepreneurs together and have meaningful conversations! Be it through a day of co-working at the Staunton Innovation Hub (March 12), convening women entrepreneurs, co-facilitating free marketing workshops, or attending events in the community, we try to be a conduit of opportunities for and with our local entrepreneurs. 

As winter turns to spring, we can feel the need in the community to gather in person; ecosystem events have been keeping us busy and show no signs of slowing down anytime soon! Here’s where we spent our time throughout February: 

  • Nick visited the State Capitol for Leadership Greater Augusta

  • We facilitated a Visual Storytelling workshop in Staunton

  • Attended Founder’s Roundtable at the Perch

  • Facilitated SCCF’s evening Business Bootcamp

  • Attended Creative Mornings at Blue Ridge Community College

  • Hosted an AI and Chat GPT workshop in Staunton

Meet our new team member

In February, the Ecosystem welcomed a new member, Gabrielle Cash (Meet Gabrielle!), who will be helping us navigate the financial landscape for entrepreneurs in the Shenandoah Valley. As part of the Economic Recovery Corps program (read more here), Gabrielle will be a dedicated support specialist and advocate for underserved communities to help them unlock and compete for various financing opportunities, serving as a resource connector and entrepreneurial ecosystem builder.

What we heard from the ecosystem

Solving the marketing puzzle in the Shenandoah Valley has been a priority since our last convening with the regional coalition (read here) of entrepreneurship supporters and champions last September (more about how you can get involved below).

Over the last six months, a small task force has surveyed small business owners to get a more nuanced understanding of common marketing challenges, and we have begun piloting solutions. We started a list of marketing resources in the Valley and are hosting small business marketing events to see which types of networking and training are most effective.  

Our first pilot was a panel discussion and speed Q&A on Visual Storytelling: How to use photos and videos to tell your story. Damian Grey of Film Story, Danielle McEwen of Unique VZSN, and Brandon Groce of New Form shared their experience with, and advice for, visual storytelling in branding, social media, and marketing businesses in the Valley. Several photographers, branding experts, and social media mavens freely shared their advice with attendees in the following speed Q&A (think of speed-dating but with marketing experts!). Entrepreneurs walked away with tangible next steps to apply to their business, and new connections to help them with marketing later down the line.

Our next experiment is a series of free marketing workshops hosted by Marketing Consultants Susan Vincent and Chris McVey. We kick this series off on April 2 with What’s your Story in Waynesboro, and the remaining three sessions will be hosted on Wednesday mornings at the Staunton Innovation Hub. Register here

The most exciting part of this effort is that we’re not the only ones working on this! Our friends at Main Street Lexington are hosting Main Street Mornings to help entrepreneurs in the Southern Valley simplify their message, optimize their content, and leverage analytics.  This four-part series will take place on the fourth Wednesday of each month through May and will be conducted entirely in person.

How you can get involved

  • Know of any cool marketing resources and/or service providers in the Valley? Add them to this list

  • Need marketing help? Join our free series of marketing workshops!

  • Help us understand what challenges entrepreneurs in the Valley are up against! Join our next Regional Coalition meeting on March 14 at the Perch in Harrisonburg! 

Nick’s Corner

As SCCF’s Outreach Manager, Nick Koger helps entrepreneurs navigate the support ecosystem here in the Shenandoah Valley. Whether it’s events, trainings, grant opportunities, or just the right connection at the right time - Nick has his finger on the pulse of what entrepreneurs need, and what resources are available. 

Here are some of the conversations Nick had in February:

  • Needing to accept payments for their products or services, micro-entrepreneurs often start their business using Cash App or Venmo. Using these payment processors is a great way to start, but they don't separate your personal finances and business finances. If your business plans to make more than $500 for the year, you need to open up a business bank account. For help setting up your business legally and opening a bank account, check out our guide, “How to Start a Business in Virginia, Legally.

  • One of the first steps in starting a business is identifying your ideal client. Your ideal client is not everyone who might buy from you, it's the customer who enthusiastically purchases your product/service and then goes on to tell others about it. Whatever product or service you develop should be a perfect solution for your ideal client. Consider creating client personas that include their age, income, demographic, and job. When you refine your audience, your message will resonate better with them, and they will be more likely to buy whatever you’re selling. If you need help refining your ideal client, watch this video, Creating a Startup Canvas.

  • Business growth is good but requires systems. When you outgrow your current system, things break and make you inefficient, out of compliance, and lower the overall quality of your business. You need systems that work with the growth of your business and continue to make your business efficient. If you desire to add growth-focused systems, apply for SCCF's Capacitor Incubator Program

  • How do I hire well and retain employees? Good HR practices are a foundation for growing your business through employees. The Small Business Development Center (SBDC) created a guide for how to creatively approach employee offerings and benefits.

  • In partnership with community members, nonprofits, and the Augusta Chamber, SCCF has been developing a workshop for Entrepreneurs of Color in Staunton, Augusta, and Waynesboro. We recognize the growing population of Black and Brown entrepreneurs and want to create specific resources to help them start a business. We’re in the beginning stages of planning and are scheduled to have our second meeting on March 20th. Stay tuned for more updates!

Are you an entrepreneur who could use a helping hand in starting or running your business? Are you struggling with some aspect of your business? Looking for a mentor or events to plug into? Check out Valley Business Compass - your digital map of the Shenandoah Valley ecosystem - and get in touch with Nick to help set up your profile! 

What’s on our radar

For more events, check out Valley Business Compass!


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