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  • Writer's pictureAnika Horn

Finding funding: Field notes from the ecosystem

Updated: Oct 17, 2023

Throughout June, the SCCF ecosystem builders connected with the Shenandoah Valley entrepreneurial ecosystem in different ways:

  • SCCF hosted our first Small Business Breakfast at the Staunton Innovation Hub

  • We attended Caffeinate/Innovate, the Harrisonburg Juneteenth celebration and a nonprofit lunch and learn at the Staunton Innovation Hub We interviewed some entrepreneurs and met a new accomplice in the Southern Valley

  • We wrapped the sixth quarter of our Community Navigator Pilot Program with our five partner organizations across the Shenandoah Valley

In the early half of the month, the SCCF team attended the Startup Champions Network Summit in Washington, D.C., to meet fellow ecosystem builders from around the U.S. and discuss the challenges of this work. Convening around the theme of policy, the team toured the U.S. Capitol and learned from advocacy organizations that make the case for more and better entrepreneurship support on the federal and state level. Executive Director Debbie Irwin shared her experiences with federal funding as part of a panel discussion and - following the Summit - joined Right to Start as an ambassador to better advocate for the needs of entrepreneurs in the Shenandoah Valley.

What we’re hearing from ecosystem accomplices

In June, we grappled with access to digital literacy. Building a business when you’re not familiar with Google Suite or how to build a website can be a challenge. Believe it or not, there are entrepreneurs who came up before the times of carrying around the internet in your back pocket! There are entrepreneurs who build businesses without a laptop at home. And there are many businesses in the Valley that operate without a website or online presence.

But there is good news for those who want to get on top of these digital skills! The Libraries of Virginia are ready to help entrepreneurs and small business owners level up their digital skills. In addition to free wifi, loanable laptops and hotspots, free meeting space, and notary services, Virginia libraries offer research assistance, legal forms, entrepreneurial mindset training, and professional development opportunities. We met with Julie Goyette, Director of Rockbridge Regional Library, to find out how entrepreneurs in the Southern Valley can benefit from their library. Julie explained, “We offer regular sessions on topics like basic computer skills and cybersecurity here at the library. We love working with and supporting entrepreneurs and small business owners here in Rockbridge County. If there’s something they need that we don’t offer yet, we’re always open to suggestions! Learn more about the Rockbridge Regional Library here.

What we’re hearing from entrepreneurs

In last month’s field notes, we mentioned that access to capital resources is a bottleneck in the Shenandoah Valley. Our Executive Director Debbie Irwin continued this conversation with several startup founders over the last few weeks who openly talked about their barriers to accessing the financing they need to start and grow their businesses here in the Valley. Here's what she heard, "A lot of early-stage entrepreneurs run into gaps in the capital continuum. Let’s assume it takes between $25,000 to $250,000 to start a business in the Valley, build a prototype, purchase inventory, or find the funds for tenant improvements to a building (which is a common need in an area with a strong manufacturing focus). Without adequate collateral or access to friends and family that can help out, what do early-stage entrepreneurs have to do to get that initial investment?”

One entrepreneur, for example, needed $250,000 to build out a space that will be sublet to local businesses, “The space is completely pre-leased, and revenue is guaranteed, but the build-out funding is lacking. Neither investors nor banks want to take on the build-out of the space without more collateral at play.”

Just imagine how many ideas, innovations, and businesses in the Valley never see the light of day because they can’t get over this first hurdle!

Debbie goes on, “Another big issue revolves around finding funding for entrepreneurs who aren't building tech startups. Most angel investors are only interested in tech startups because they can potentially scale quickly and offer the potential of large returns. Unfortunately, this mindset is also perpetuated by tech being viewed as synonyms with innovation. In the Shenandoah Valley, innovation comes in different shapes and forms. There are many cash-positive, high revenue generating companies in the Shenandoah Valley, but if we keep pursuing the mindset that investments have to offer a 100x return, we miss out on creating a vibrant economy that outlasts the next investment fad.”

In the second half of 2023, SCCF will focus on mapping capital resources and identifying gaps to be filled in collaboration with other ecosystem partners. We want to hear from entrepreneurs directly about their challenges in raising and managing the funds for their businesses. If you’re an entrepreneur who wants to share their experience with us, please reach out to If you want us to visit your community so we can hear from your local small business owners about their success and challenges in raising capital, get in touch!

Here’s what we’re excited about this summer:

  • July 19: Business Bootcamp: Advancing Your Dream kicks off for aspiring entrepreneurs in Winchester, Frederick, and Clarke counties (in-person)

  • July 27: Caffeinate/Innovate & SCCF present “The Side-Hustlers”, The Perch Coworking Space, Harrisonburg (RSVP here)

  • August 1: JMU SWaM Vendor Fair (details here)

  • August 8: Free coworking day at the Staunton Innovation Hub, anyone is welcome!


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