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  • Writer's pictureNick Koger

Marketing, farms, and AI, oh my! Field notes from the ecosystem

What the Ecosystem team has been up to

During the month of October Anika and Nick were busy gathering entrepreneurs and attending networking events. In October,

  • We co-hosted a Small Business Happy Hour with 16 attendees at Woodstock Brewhouse

  • Nick spoke as a panelist at “Meetup to Startup” at Virginia Military Institute, answering cadet questions about customer discovery and entrepreneurship

  • We co-hosted a Small Business Lunch in Broadway talking with over 25 entrepreneurs, supporters, and community leaders

  • Introduced 2,500 Rockingham County Middle Schoolers to entrepreneurship at Worlds of Work

  • Attended Virginia Innovation Accelerator B.C.C.E Networking Social to meet with aspiring innovators, and

  • We sat down 1:1 with six entrepreneurs to talk about their business challenges


Other highlights

Startup Champions Network is coming to the Shenandoah Valley! SCCF will be hosting 50+ entrepreneurial ecosystem builders to showcase our community and work with these experts on some of our toughest challenges in our ecosystem. If you want to learn more, join our info call on November 14 at 10 a.m. Email Anika to request an invitation.


Southern Living Magazine featured Harrisonburg! The article featured Magpie, Mashita, Sage Bird, and more. Read it here.


Words from an entrepreneur

In one of our conversations, a small business owner told us about her reason for owning a business in the Shenandoah Valley that we just have to share with you: “My business is my love letter to my community. There’s a reason we chose to have a business in your small town. There’s something beautiful in this community that made us want to open our doors here, and we want to share that goodness with others. We want people to take that home with them and change it in their community.”


What we heard from accomplices and entrepreneurs

At the Small Business Lunch in Broadway, we split into groups to discuss marketing challenges that small business owners face. Questions revolved around identifying the right target customers and figuring out how to effectively market to them. Some small business owners voiced the challenges of moving from traditional to digital marketing and how to skill up, because to many it feels as though marketing alone could be a full-time role in their company. Lastly, we discussed what it takes to rank on Google's first page when listing your small business.

Small businesses brought up a new challenge: competing against local corporate ownership. Corporations and private equity groups now have a deeper reach into small businesses and are launching new services locally with deep pockets. It’s difficult to compete with price, or quality of service when a competitor claims they are locally owned but corporately held.

A.I is rapidly changing and entrepreneurs need accessible resources to better understand how it can affect jobs, hiring, and the entrepreneurial landscape. Innovation and technological advancement are displacing the service industry, and it's cheaper to use Midjourney, an A.I. design tool, than to hire a professional graphic designer. Small businesses can get left behind, if they don’t stay informed and continually change.


A trip to the farm

Nick visited Fawn Crossing Farm in Bridgewater, Virginia, owned by Bill and Sharon. The farm sits on 11 acres and has ducks, pigs, chickens, and goats, and has been operational since 2000. The farm is a net carbon-neutral operation, utilizing wind, solar PV, solar hot water, and geothermal renewable energy technologies.


What we heard from these farmers:

  • Small farms don’t make a lot of money. 80% of small farmers make less than $10k/year

  • The farm system is being upheld by government subsidies to large corporations. The cost you buy in the store often doesn’t represent the actual cost to maintain and grow on a farm.

  • There isn’t a good program to educate the younger generation on farming

  • Farming should be sustainable, scalable, and repeatable


How we’re addressing some of these challenges

We know that marketing is a big issue for small business owners in the Valley. We’re addressing this in two ways:

1. We’re piloting a new event format called the Small Business Social. In collaboration with Grow Waynesboro, we match entrepreneurs and subject matter experts during 15-minute speed mentoring sessions to help entrepreneurs get unstuck and solve problems with the support of mentors and advisors here in the Valley.

2. A small task force of entrepreneurial supporters is working to figure out what the central marketing challenges are for small business owners in the Valley in hopes of curating solutions and the right service providers to meet the most pressing needs. To build the right solution, we want to hear from entrepreneurs.


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