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  • Writer's pictureAnika Horn

The Shenandoah Valley Ecosystem: Addressing key issues to entrepreneurial success

Four insights from the first Regional Coalition work session of 2024



Twice a year, the SCCF Ecosystem team convenes the Regional Coalition, a group of entrepreneurship supporters from around the Shenandoah Valley, for a three-hour work session to

  • Share all the events and opportunities that the different support organizations have available for entrepreneurs in the Shenandoah Valley (see them here!)

  • Identify common challenges that entrepreneurs face in our region, and discuss how we might solve them through collaboration (see below), and

  • Brainstorm storytelling ideas to continue to shine a light on entrepreneurship in the Shenandoah Valley (see here).


On March 22, 2024, 22 accomplices met in Harrisonburg to discuss the barriers to success that entrepreneurs face in the Shenandoah Valley. Here’s what we found:


Landlord advocacy

The list of landlord issues in the Valley is long: 

  • It’s hard to find commercial spaces that are available to brick-and-mortar businesses.

  • Business owners need more legal insight to understand leases and know what to look for.

  • Not all landlords are local and there’s often a varied understanding of real estate value, appropriate rent rates, and the responsibilities of maintenance and upkeep/upgrades.

  • We don’t have enough commercial realtors who know the inventory throughout the Valley.


To address these issues, we discussed 

  • Better educating realtors about tax incentives available to landlords (enterprise zones, opportunity zones, state incentives)

  • The potential of public-private partnerships 

  • Finding easier and better ways to market your property.


If you are a landlord willing to lend your expertise or you already work with landlords, we’d love to chat! Please contact Nick Koger!




Human resources for small businesses

Recruiting and retaining skilled and loyal talent is a real issue in the Shenandoah Valley. Issues we discussed during our work session revolved around the greater question, “What is the talent lifecycle, and how is it supported?”

  • How can higher education fill some of the training gaps?

  • How do we best educate local entrepreneurs on the hiring process and HR policies?

  • How can we scale the resources we already have?


Existing resources include: 

  • Virginia Talent + Opportunity Partnership is helping small businesses recruit interns and can even help subsidize their wages!  

  • Various career fairs on university and college campuses

  • Service providers such as the Business Solutions Team, the Society for Human Resource Management, and HR Reliance. 


What the ecosystem is doing to leverage these resources and address this systemic issue:

  • SCCF, in collaboration with HR Reliance, is working on a virtual training series about HR practices to add to the SCCF Resource Library (on YouTube). The first two videos are posted here.

 

Other ideas we brainstormed to move this topic forward include hosting workshops for local entrepreneurs, organizing career fairs focused on small businesses and better developing the apprenticeship pipeline for trade businesses. If this is something you’re interested in working on, please reach out to Anika! 



Marketing

Even though we’ve started tackling the marketing dilemma for small businesses, we still have a long way to go. Issues that accomplices throughout the Valley are herding from entrepreneurs include:

  • How do you market with no budget?

  • How do you market to the right people?

  • How do you craft your message to reach and convert your target audience to customers?

  • How to find your audience: Where do they spend their time and how do you get in front of them?


 How the ecosystem is addressing these challenges: 


Other ideas among accomplices included exploring “small town” influencer partnerships to cross-promote local businesses, leveraging AI to support small business marketing efforts (here’s a webinar to get you started), and compiling more virtual marketing resources (e.g. Canva’s free design school, Youtube tutorials, etc.)


If you are a social media content creator or local marketer with a passion for seeing our local entrepreneurs thrive, please reach out to Anika to get involved! 



Accessibility 

One of the biggest issues we face as a rural region is accessibility to resources. Sometimes, even finding out about a resource is a heavy lift. Often the burden of finding and accessing a resource is placed on already under-resourced business owners:

  • Sometimes you need existing industry- and business knowledge before engaging with the ecosystem.

  • If you don’t know what to look for, how can you find it? 

  • If you don’t know anyone who is already involved in your industry or the entrepreneurship world, how do you find an entry point?

  • If they’re lucky, entrepreneurs find resources piece by piece but don’t have access to the entire support ecosystem.

  • Early-stage entrepreneurs, especially, don’t know what to ask, whom to ask, where to find support, and who is trustworthy.


We want more conversations with and among small business owners to take place in accessible locations, not least to start addressing the isolation many entrepreneurs experienced in our area during the COVID pandemic. 

The issue is not the amount of resources available; we know that if a resource is not easily accessible, it’s of no use to the entrepreneur. 

Here are some steps we can take as an ecosystem to make local resources for entrepreneurs more accessible:

  • Showcase resources for each stage of life (recent graduates, 2nd career seekers, seasoned entrepreneurs, etc.) and ensure there are multiple points to access them (for example by working with partner organizations).

  • Introduce the Valley’s youth to a more entrepreneurial mindset.

  • Revisiting models of mentorship available to entrepreneurs in the Valley. We want to create a greater sense of belonging in the business community.

  • Strengthen our efforts of building the community of entrepreneurs organically and authentically to engage peers in conversations about entrepreneurship and business success.

  • Make more warm introductions and ensure follow-through.

  • Create connections and build relationships with educational institutions.

  • Meet people where they are instead of expecting them to already know what to ask for.

  • Empower people to see themselves as leaders and entrepreneurs. 


If you are passionate about granting more equitable access to resources for entrepreneurs in the Shenandoah Valley, please contact Gabrielle Cash. 



Get Involved

Do you want to see entrepreneurs in the Shenandoah Valley thrive? Join one of our working groups by contacting Anika Horn and RSVP for our next work session on September 19 at Friendly City Spaces in Harrisonburg! 





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