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  • Writer's pictureAnika Horn

SCN Summit Recap

What happens when 120+ ecosystem builders descend on the Shenandoah Valley

In April 2024, SCCF excitedly welcomed a national, grassroots network of entrepreneurial ecosystem builders, from around the US, to the Shenandoah Valley for a two-and-a-half-day live case study of the regional entrepreneurial ecosystem.

For six months prior, the Ecosystem team worked to curate innovation tours, relationship-based programming, and roundtables to workshop solutions to our local challenges. On the evening of April 29, the 19th Startup Champions Network (SCN) Summit kicked off in Harrisonburg, VA.

The SCN Summit in numbers:

  • 127 registered attendees from as far away as Oregon, Texas, Florida, and Michigan

  • 76 participants in the Metalcrafters Tour in Waynesboro

  • 12 Dragon hunters

  • 11 Roses & Thorns sessions

  • 10 Peer learning roundtables 

  • 3 Community Dinners with Locals

  • 2 JMU buses to tour the Shenandoah Valley

Over two and half days, attendees explored the Shenandoah Valley, with Liberty Street Loft in Harrisonburg as the main location, featuring tours around Waynesboro’s Metalcrafters Building and downtown Staunton (Community dinners in collaboration with Silver Line Theatre Exchange, Community Foundation of the Central Blue Ridge, Shenandoah LGBTQ Center and the Staunton Innovation Hub). 

“As the founder of a Nonprofit Organization, I’ve had the privilege of attending numerous conferences and summits, but the SCN Summit was truly a standout experience," said Keisha Nicholson, Founder of Love Forward Foundation & representative of the Staunton Black Business Collective. "The Summit’s focus on inclusive entrepreneurship and fostering collaboration resonated deeply with my own organization’s mission.

The intimate setting of the Summit provided an unparalleled opportunity to connect with the nation’s top ecosystem builders and gain insight from real-world case studies. SCCF’s commitment to minimizing panel discussions and maximizing conversations created an atmosphere where knowledge transfer happened organically. For me, the highlight was the showcase of placemaking and innovation in rural America. 

This Summit was more than just an event; it was a testament to the vibrant entrepreneurial spirit that thrives within our communities. I left the Summit with a renewed sense of purpose and a wealth of new ideas to bring back to my organization and the community I serve."

Not only did attendees benefit from a unique perspective of the Valley and Southern hospitality, but local accomplices in the ecosystem emerged with new ideas and strategies for their efforts informed by what works in other parts of the country. 

Summit highlights

“I thoroughly enjoyed the Startup Champions Network summit! The opportunity to meet and learn from other ecosystem builders was amazing. The summit provided a great balance of networking/socializing time with interactive, informational sessions. There were many takeaways, but one that stands out is the game we played - Cohado from Paolo Gregory. The game reinforces the mindset and skills needed to partner, collaborate, and strategize to win. Building ecosystems and communities is not a zero-sum game!”
Peirce Macgill, Deputy Director, Harrisonburg Economic Development

Defining Ecosystem Builder profiles

“On the last day of the Summit, we discussed the different characteristics and profiles of the Ecosystem profession. As an emerging Entrepreneur Ecosystem Builder, I knew I fit the Navigator profile”, said Nick Koger, SCCF’s Community Outreach Manager. He loves meeting new entrepreneurs, introducing them to the community, and guiding them along their roller coaster journey of starting a business. “Connecting entrepreneurs to resources is my superpower that I frequently flex as an Ecosystem Builder”. He believes every connection made is a step forward in building a stronger entrepreneurial community, where businesses can start, grow, and thrive.

"My Startup Champions Network Summit experience was unassumingly profound.  As a newcomer to the scene professionally, I wanted to be bashful but was encouraged to sit around at the collective table and share and collaborate. The tilt-shift that has me thinking deeply is how diversity exists in my rural community and acknowledgment might be necessary before amplification. This is work that may need a few seasons to grow and to pace myself to sustain that energy as well.  I can't wait to attend the next one."
Brian McKee, Small Business Specialist, Strasburg

The role of small business in rural America 

“One of the conversations I was most excited about was a fireside chat with Bart Lanman of Basic City Beer Co. and the Foundry, Aaron Mallory of Happ Coffee, and Patt Eagan of Commonwealth Crush.” Anika Horn, co-host of the Summit, reflects. “All three entrepreneurs intentionally chose Waynesboro, an otherwise unassuming exit off of I-64, as the home for their brick-and-mortar businesses. 

“When we first opened, even people from Charlottesville, Crozet, or Staunton would ask me where Waynesboro was. For many years, there was no good reason to leave the interstate and stop here.’ Bart Lanman shared. 

Rather than opening their tasting rooms and storefronts in downtown Waynesboro, Bart and his brother decided to help revitalize a part of town that - back then - was “mostly known for drugs and homelessness”. Ten years ago, the Virginia Metalcrafters Building was a crumbling warehouse. Today, thanks to the vision of local entrepreneurs, the building is shaping up as a hotspot for small businesses that roast and brew high-quality coffee, incubate local winemakers and host national music acts with up to 800 people. 

In a startup world where bigger is always better, Aaron Mallory, for example, explained that success at Happ Coffee means building community and people in a cozy coffee shop to spend time in, drink world-class coffee, and connect with one another. Commonwealth Crush, featured in Entrepreneur Magazine for their custom crush approach to winemaking, is quickly becoming the launchpad for a local ecosystem of winemakers and they are striving towards reaching capacity and shipping nationwide, but without sacrificing the quality of their operation. 

As an ecosystem builder in the region, I’m excited to see these ventures take flight and I appreciate their commitment to bringing their community alongside them. Whenever a big company decides where to locate its next plant, production site, or headquarters, I believe a thriving small business community is key to attracting other companies. Who wants to move to a small town in rural America if it doesn’t have broadband, excellent coffee, live music, and some top-notch tasting rooms? Whether they know it or not, these entrepreneurs are laying the foundation for economic growth in the Shenandoah Valley. And they do it with humility and hard work. That’s why I’m so thrilled that Startup Champions nationwide had a chance to visit the Metalcrafters Building and hear their stories.”  

“I know from experience how much work it is to pull off a Summit and you all executed it flawlessly. I didn’t know what to expect from the Shenandoah Valley but after spending a few days there I am absolutely smitten with the area and really impressed with the connectedness and support in each of the ecosystems you showed us. Y’all have done a great job there. I believe this is my favorite SCN Summit that I’ve ever attended – excellent job!”
Marco Johnson, 2022 Summit Host, Fort Worth, Texas

Getting an outside perspective

“One of the best parts of the SCN Summit, for me,” said Ashley Wenger, SCCF’s Marketing Manager, “was getting the perspective of people who are doing the same type of work, but outside of Virginia. The SCN Summit brought people together from Texas, Indiana, Michigan, California, and even Mexico! Although we were from different places and had different perspectives, we were able to share our common frustrations, ask each other questions about what was working, and share our advice for what wasn’t working.” As a solo marketing team within SCCF’s organization, Ashley enjoys any opportunity to ‘talk shop’ with other people, and trade new ideas.

“During night one, I sat at a dinner table with a mix of people from and outside of Virginia and we talked about what it takes to build community. Our different backgrounds and experiences helped open the conversation to a wide variety of ideas and solutions that one person could not have come up with when tackling this issue alone. On day two, I had the opportunity to lead a ‘roses and thorns session’ (a common SCN Summit practice), during which my group shared their frustrations about the work they were doing. Ecosystem builders who have been doing this work for a decade were able to relate to entrepreneurs who were new to the “ecosystem building” world and give advice and insight on how to keep moving forward. It was a wonderful experience to feel seen and heard by people who understand what you’re working on, and who care about your same goals.” 

“What an incredible week in Harrisonburg VA in the heart of the Shenandoah Valley with Startup Champions Network! I have discovered a community, practice, and national movement for our ecosystem-building work. It feels great to be in community with kindred spirits from across the nation who have all arrived at the same thesis and theory of change: that investing in entrepreneurial ecosystems can produce transformative social and economic prosperity for all of our communities, and that we have the power to collaborate across sectors and institutions to organize for equitable access to innovation infrastructure, entrepreneurial education, ecosystem building professionalization, and capital for all of our cities' most overlooked innovators.”
Sebastián Martín, Social Entrepreneur, Educator & Movement Maker, New York

Get involved 

If you’re interested in getting involved with entrepreneurial ecosystem-building, or learning more about what it takes to engage your entrepreneur community, reach out to Anika Horn, SCCF’s Director of Ecosystem Building, today! 

The next Startup Champions Network Summit will take place in the Fall of 2024, in another local community somewhere around the United States! Dates and locations are to be announced. Keep up with SCN on social media to be notified of details and updates! 


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