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  • Writer's pictureAnika Horn

Keeping an ear to the ground: Field notes from the ecosystem

Updated: Apr 17, 2023

Over the course of March 2023, the Ecosystem team was out and about: We like to keep our ear to the ground so we know at all times what entrepreneurs are struggling with, and what the entrepreneurial ecosystem in the Shenandoah Valley can do to support them.


Here’s March in numbers:

  • Caught up with 10 ecosystem partners in the Southern and Central Valley

  • Attended 8 entrepreneurship events to connect with local businesses and one of our national partners, the Center on Rural Innovation

  • Met with 7 entrepreneurs throughout the Valley

  • Hosted 1 Fireside Chat in collaboration with the town of Strasburg


Highlights

Virginia Secretary of Commerce and Trade, Caren Merrick, Deputy Secretary of Commerce and Trade, Nicole Riley, and Director of Partner Relations for the Virginia Economic Development Partnership, Abigail Wescott, MBA swung by the Staunton Innovation Hub to meet with entrepreneurs to hear what’s going on in the innovation space. As a former tech entrepreneur herself, Merrick shared, “We were told we had to move to Silicon Valley to get our startup funded and off the ground, but we refused. Because we knew there was a great opportunity here in Virginia. We bootstrapped, raised venture capital, and eventually went public on Nasdaq. It CAN happen here.”


Three main issues shared by the entrepreneurs:

  1. Unstable broadband in rural areas

  2. Challenges of accessing growth capital here in the region.

  3. The narrow definition of “innovation”: Innovation comes in many shapes and forms outside of the tech world. In the Valley, for example, agricultural tech and innovation in manufacturing play a big role in innovation.


What else we’re hearing from entrepreneurs…

During the first Entrepreneur Fireside Chat in Strasburg, a group of small business owners gathered on a Tuesday night in late March to share their greatest challenges. Attendees brainstormed ideas to solve issues such as

  • Operational efficiencies

  • Marketing, and

  • Work-life balance.


Fireside Chats are a new format that SCCF is piloting around the Valley to help local ecosystems find out what entrepreneurs in their communities are struggling with and offer targeted and timely support. We’re testing the assumption that if we surround founders with other founders and their local support ecosystem (advisors, mentors, service providers, resource providers, and other entrepreneurship champions & advocates), any challenge they bring up is likely to be met with a solution or next step to help the entrepreneur get unstuck. If you’re interested in hosting a Fireside Chat in your community, please reach out to Anika at anika@sccfva.org.



Great visions need great execution

Nick Koger, community liaison at SCCF, meets with entrepreneurs regularly to hear more about their entrepreneurial journey in the Valley. This month, he heard stories about the need to turn good ideas into reality, and building the right processes to execute them.

“I met with two different entrepreneurs who recently launched or are about to launch a product-based business, and both are figuring out the execution part. For example, one entrepreneur accomplished his vision of opening a shop, but doesn’t have the necessary processes to streamline his business: He doesn’t have a website but instead promotes his inventory on Instagram. He has a point-of-sale system but often accepts payments on Venmo. He has no inventory-management systems and, as a first-time entrepreneur, expressed needing help figuring out his business finances.”


What we’re hearing from ecosystem partners

In our monthly meetup of support organizations for under-resourced entrepreneurs in the Valley (learn more about Community Navigator), Martin Short, district officer for the Small Business Administration, asked our partner organizations what the greatest challenges are for Black and Brown entrepreneurs in the Valley.

The answer we often hear is a lack of equitable access to capital. But in this conversation, we were able to dig a little deeper. Our partner organizations reported that many of the entrepreneurs they work with don’t just need capital, but need help in managing it. “Financial literacy is key to unlocking entrepreneurial success. We need to provide training and resources for entrepreneurs that they can access early on and at all times: How to set up a business bank account. What records to keep. Separating personal and business expenses. This is not something that is taught in school - yet we expect entrepreneurs to know it before they start their businesses. Without training and coaching for better financial literacy, we’re setting them up for failure”, explained Chanda McGuffin of RISE Organization in Waynesboro.

Unlocking financial literacy and management for entrepreneurs is a top priority for us here at SCCF this year. Among other initiatives, we at SCCF are hiring a Finance Navigator to better serve entrepreneurs of all backgrounds in the Valley: The Finance Navigator will map available resources for entrepreneurs in the Valley (building on the Valley Business Compass), build relationships within the ecosystem and access the needs of entrepreneurs in the Valley to help us identify gaps and build partnerships to close them - all while better meeting the needs of the makers, doers, tinkerers, and dreamers in the Valley. If you know someone who would be a good fit for this role, please point them to our job description.




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