Suggesting solutions: Field notes from the ecosystem
Updated: Oct 17
What the Ecosystem team has been up to
Now that summer is over our Ecosystem team - Nick and Anika - have been zipping across the Valley to talk with entrepreneurs and find out what’s working for them and what isn’t. In September alone,
We convened a regional coalition of 18 entrepreneurs and entrepreneurial supporters (more below)
We co-hosted two events with small business owners in Broadway and Strasburg to hear what’s working and what isn’t for them (read our insights below)
We wrapped up the 7th quarter of our Community Navigator Pilot Program (CNPP) - one more to go! Over the last 21 months, the Shenandoah Valley CNPP consortium has
Worked with 300 entrepreneurs in the Valley one-on-one to start, manage, and grow their businesses (during over 1,000 hours!)
Trained 2,300 entrepreneurs in the Valley during over 600 training and workshop hours
Invested $450,000 into local entrepreneurs through grants and repayable loans
Local and state-level media broke four stories featuring entrepreneurs and the entrepreneurial ecosystem in the Shenandoah Valley:
Commonwealth Crush was featured in Entrepreneur Magazine
Virginia Business highlighted the agriculture industry in the Valley
Our Director of Ecosystem Building published her first OpEd in Impact Entrepreneur (and landed on the front page!)
WHSV reported on the regional storytelling campaign about The Side Hustlers
What we heard from accomplices and entrepreneurs
Last month, we hosted our six-month check-in with the Regional Coalition. The Regional Coalition is a group of entrepreneurs, small business owners, and entrepreneur supporters in our Valley who are eager to be involved in creating a thriving entrepreneurial ecosystem. Every six months, we convene to discuss what is working for entrepreneurs and what challenges they’re facing, and pool our knowledge of what resources are available and what solutions we can test out. As any good entrepreneur knows, it’s important to listen to what people need before offering solutions. During September’s meeting, we heard three common problems:
How and where do entrepreneurs go to test whether their business is viable?
How do they find the resources and opportunities, that are specific to their industry, that can help them run successful marketing campaigns?
Where can they find the capital to establish and/or scale a business in the Shenandoah Valley?
With the help of those in the room, we’ve come up with the existing assets that can help solve these challenges, as well as some potential solutions to test out.
From Idea to Launch
How and where do entrepreneurs go to test whether their business is viable? Currently, there are several organizations that provide programs that teach entrepreneurs customer discovery and how to test the viability of their ideas.
In addition to the support these programs provide, our ecosystem still needs more
Mentors and advisors to guide entrepreneurs throughout their entrepreneurial journey,
Self-paced on-demand learning, and
Mini-grants to help them test their ideas quickly, iterate, and move to the next stage of development.
To find out how the ecosystem is trying to fill this gap, read what we have planned under “Next Steps”. If you have ideas for other resources, event formats, and tools that help entrepreneurs in the Valley take their ideas to launch, please add them to Valley Business Compass and be sure to let Nick know!
How do entrepreneurs find industry-specific resources and opportunities to help them run successful marketing campaigns? The Valley Business Compass provides a list of marketing resources and support for small businesses in the Shenandoah Valley; this list is continually updated as we learn of and come across new resources.
However, there are many organizations and service providers that we can’t add to the list on VBC because we just don’t know about them! If you are a marketing professional or marketing agency, make sure you create a Valley Business Compass profile so that you can be included.
As a group, we also identified gaps in our ecosystem for marketing mentors, robust marketing curriculum, and grant funds for marketing assistance. Our next steps are to determine what type of programming would be most useful for entrepreneurs, how to deploy that programming and identify local talent to help facilitate the programming (read more below in “Next Steps”).
Access to Capital
Where can entrepreneurs find the capital to establish and/or scale a business in the Shenandoah Valley? We’ve been having these conversations throughout the Valley for weeks and are beginning to make some progress.
Mostly, entrepreneurs point to these challenges:
How do you know when the right time is to invest in your business for growth?
Vocabulary: Financial lingo is confusing. What is a P&L? Who gets venture capital?
Getting a loan: Who is a trustworthy lender? What is a reasonable interest rate? What if my credit isn’t strong? What if I don’t have collateral?
Business finance: What do you need a balance sheet for? How do you make financial projections? What is a cash flow statement? And who can help with any of these?
If an entrepreneur is turned down for a traditional bank loan, where else can they turn for capital?
As a first step, we’ve curated a resource list on Valley Business Compass that includes local grants, loan programs, angel investors, and other capital resources. At the upcoming Shenandoah Valley Entrepreneurship Summit, entrepreneurs will have access to workshops and panels on financial topics including financial checklists and alternate funding streams.
Our ecosystem needs more available entrepreneur-friendly capital that is flexible, low-interest, and not dependent on credit scores and/or collateral. We also hear over and over that entrepreneurs would benefit from working with grant experts to assist them with grant applications.
Filling gaps in the capital landscape to better serve the different types of entrepreneurs and providing accessible training and education on financial management is an ecosystem-wide effort that is not complete within a week. If you are passionate about providing your knowledge and assistance in any of these areas and are eager to help build on our ecosystem support, please reach out to Anika, or Director of Ecosystem Building, to get involved.
If you would like to learn more about the work we’re doing and share your insights, we invite you to join us at the next Regional Coalition meeting on March 14 at the Perch in Harrisonburg:
In order to meet the needs we heard over the last weeks and months, here’s how the ecosystem is collaborating to fill the gaps:
To better support entrepreneurs in testing their ideas and getting the right support, the City of Waynesboro is hosting an idea mixer on November 7, 2023. The goal is to match entrepreneurs (new and existing) with a series of experts to get feedback on their ideas and to get unstuck. If you’re an entrepreneur interested in participating in this event, please RSVP in advance.
Marketing Task Force
A group of dedicated champions is talking to entrepreneurs specifically about their marketing needs. If you’re an entrepreneur who is willing to share with us what specifically they need help with, please respond to this short survey.
If you’re a marketer in the Valley who wants to be part of this conversation, please contact Anika Horn, Director of Ecosystem Development at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Access to Capital conversations
The Ecosystem team continues to talk to entrepreneurs in the Valley about their challenges in accessing capital and financial education. If you’re interested in sharing your experiences and telling us more about what would be most useful to you, please reach out to Nick Koger at email@example.com. If you are a capital provider who wants to get involved in the Shenandoah Valley Ecosystem, please contact Anika.
Want to learn more about our ecosystem-building approach? Click here.