On Thursday March 11, 2021, SCCF held the Startup Shenandoah Valley (S2V) Showcase for its inaugural class. The participants safely gathered in two of the region’s coworking spaces – the Staunton Innovation Hub and Winchester InnoVaul and connected virtually with the program participants and members of the community.
SCCF staff highlighted the businesses and interviewed the founders about their experience in the program. Event turnout was high and SCCF is excited to share some highlights with you here!
A common sentiment among many of the participants was the impact of their mentors. Mark Toorock of American Parkour said, “Every time I talked to Sam [mentor] for three minutes he dropped so much knowledge on me that I’m like ‘right now I’ve got another three years worth of work to do.’ Everything he says to me I’m like ‘wow that’s amazing’ and my to-do list grows exponentially but it’s really great.” Not only were the mentors knowledgeable, but it was obvious each participant felt their mentor genuinely wanted them to succeed. Ben Huson of Newtown Fitness Club said, “My time with my mentor has been extremely handy. Seeing the glow in his eye when we talk about an idea and how we’re going to change the fitness industry has really been keeping me going.” “The mentorship piece of it steered me in a great direction,” Matt Johnson of Öl Dominion Beer and Exploration Club noted. Both the S2V participants and SCCF are extremely grateful for all of the mentors who graciously volunteered their time: Guatham Vadakkepatt, Tom Cooke, Aram DiGennaro, Bob Kolodinsky, Laura Greer Kuykendall, Alison Denbigh, Matthew Dean, Sam Ensogna, and Jiaremy Drooger.
Along with the mentors, the fluency coaches were praised throughout the showcase. AK Koyee of Pure Shenandoah said, “Fluency helped a lot with identifying potential problems with vendors and really focusing on selling them on themselves than selling them on our solution.” The combination of both the mentors and the fluency coaches elevated the program and helped the participants gain perspective and make a plan. “The fluent coaches…immediately identified what I needed in my business to help it the most,” said QuickFix Founder Bryant Harrison. The key to the S2V program is the combination of human resources to which the participants are given access. “You take the best of all the very bright, intelligent people and you form your own ideas,” Sean Zirkle of Panoramic InfoSec added.
Beyond the mentors and coaches, S2V participants lauded the amazing connections they were able to make in the area. AK Koyee said “The S2V program was unique and very very enticing to our network and very important for us” and “The potential for collaboration in S2V is huge.” Matt Johnson added, “Being able to be tied into the shenandoah valley has really given me a lot of context I wouldn’t have been able to have access to outside of it… I’ve expanded my network at least two fold since I’ve come aboard.”
While the participants appreciated every aspect of the program, they could not say enough nice things about their peers. “You would expect to just learn from your mentors and coaches, but you are also learning from each other,” said Dustyn Vallies of Local Food Network. Mark Toorock added, “I think it’s great to have that balance and trusting someone enough to give them actual critical feedback. There’s that level of trust that not a lot of people have… but this group was brave enough to give honest feedback to each other and I think that’s incredible.” One aspect of S2V that separates it from similar programs is the group support and meetings, so it is fantastic to see how beneficial that was for the participants.
The skills the cohort gained along the way may have varied, but their usefulness was always cherished. Ruth Rau of Mouse Loves Pig said, “The time management and CEO mindset that this program has been helping me develop has been a big challenge. And how I’ve overcome that is using sand timers – an idea sparked from a conversation with my mentor.” Ruth’s solution to improve her business skills helped her move up her timeline on expanding to more employees. Sean Zirkle said, “I knew what I wanted to do from my business model, however, I didn’t have the business skills. With that, between SCCF, the mentors, the fluency coaches, and everyone, I was really able to take it to that next level, to understand the business side of everything.” He added, “Without SCCF, I wouldn’t be at my business valuation, I wouldn’t have gotten a very large contract. I wouldn’t have been how successful we have been for the last couple months.” As AK Koyee said, “It doesn’t matter how far along you are in the business, there’s always areas you can improve on in one way or another.”
Bryant Harrison closed out the showcase with the following advice for the second S2V cohort: “Jump in.”
Thank you to everyone who made Startup Shenandoah Valley a success. SCCF is recruiting now for the second cohort and will launch the next coaching sprint in late-May. More information can be found here: www.stauntonfund.org/s2v
Watch the showcase here: https://youtu.be/uusYE6slOQU