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  • Writer's pictureKatie Overfield-Zook

The Valley's First Entrepreneurship Summit

Empowering. Inspiring. Safe space. Refreshing. Educational. Community.

On September 12th, seasoned and burgeoning entrepreneurs alike gathered at the Staunton Innovation Hub to begin two days of keynote addresses, panel discussions, breakout sessions, and networking. “Empowering. Inspiring. Safe space. Refreshing. Educational. Community.” Those were just a few of the words participants of the Inaugural Shenandoah Valley Entrepreneurship Summit used to summarize their experience.

The Summit kicked off with a presentation called Failing Forward by the owner and Chief Popcorn Enthusiast, Tisha McCoy-Ntiamoah of PrePOPsterous Gourmet Popcorn and Soda. Her honest talk addressed how the fear of succeeding sometimes held her back more than her fear of failing.

“My brother once told me ‘Everything you want is on the other side of fear.’ and I realized that the one way to overcome that fear is to allow myself to fail. Fail and fail again. Because it shows you that - in most cases - a small failure is not the end of your business. It’s just part of the process of learning and trying things. And the more comfortable we, as entrepreneurs, become with failure, the faster and more confidently we can move forward in building the business we want.”

McCoy-Ntiamoah’s vulnerable admission of fear came on the heels of SCCF’s Executive Director Debbie Irwin’s opening remarks that the Summit is a safe place, where failure is not only accepted but celebrated. These remarks, along with a video from Senator Mark Warner talking about his two failed businesses before his third took off, set the tone for an environment where no question is too simple and entrepreneurs could truly share their deepest concerns with each other. “It was really great learning that we’re not alone in being an entrepreneur, and that we all struggle, but we’re all here for each other,” remarked Amanda Shrader, Staunton Photographer and Co-founder of Virginia Creative Collective.

Concluding day one was a dinner provided by local food trucks C&C Country Cooking, based in Harrisonburg, and Cheesesteak Scenario, based in Staunton, and drinks provided by Center of the Universe Brewing Company. During dinner, entrepreneurs networked and shared with each other their best piece of business advice, followed by a little bit of dancing. “What I’ve liked most about this is it’s a smaller crowd than most conferences that I’ve been to in the past, and because of that it feels like I’ve made real, meaningful connections with people I otherwise would not have, and definitely did not in larger conference settings,” said the owner of Burrow and Vine Megan Burrows about networking at the Summit.

On day two, participants rolled up their sleeves. The morning started with an important discussion around burnout, work-life balance, and mental health for entrepreneurs. “We might not have all the answers for how to find balance and the energy to keep going when we’re at our lowest, but at least we can know that we’re all in this together,” Anika Horn, SCCF Director of Ecosystem Building and Marketing, said during the panel.

From there, entrepreneurs got to choose from a variety of sessions to attend. Whether it was taxes or exit strategy, a deep dive on social media, or a panel on product development, there really was something for everyone - no matter their experience, age, or stage of their business. Business experts, entrepreneurs, and community partners from F&M Bank and Brown & Edwards, CPA helped lead these informative sessions. Entrepreneurs could also choose to spend time implementing the valuable skills they had learned so far, during Get Stuff Done sessions, “I’ll say, it’s one thing to come to an event, get tons of information and it just goes over your head. It’s another when you have an event that gives the entrepreneur or business leader space and time to actually ingest the information they’re receiving and ask questions about it,” commented Damian Grey, founder of Film Story.

By the end of day two, participants were already signing new business deals, developing entrepreneur-led creative groups, and scheduling coffee dates with their new connections! Some even stayed long after the Hub had been packed up and the lights were turned off to continue the conversations they were engaged in. Those who attended and those who were disheartened to have to miss are already anxiously awaiting the next Summit. Lucky for them, the 2nd Annual Shenandoah Valley Entrepreneurship Summit is already in the works, with an anticipated October 2023 date! Sign up for our newsletter if you want to be notified about the details for next year’s Shenandoah Valley Entrepreneurship Summit, and we’ll see you at Summit 2023!


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