Creating an entrepreneurial ecosystem: A look at how SWVA is fostering entrepreneurship

Starting a successful business takes a network of people

Small Business Spotlight: Strengthening our local economy

Vinton – More than just starting a business, entrepreneurship is a community sport. It takes a community effort to get business’s open and thriving, especially as we near the end of the pandemic. Behind every business, main street, or bustling shopping center, is a network of people who made it happen. It’s called “an entrepreneurial ecosystem.” Fostering entrepreneurship has become a core focus of economic development in cities and countries around the world. It’s also a focus for local economic development leaders in Southwest Virginia as small businesses are consistently recognized as the backbone of our community.

That is what entrepreneurs going through the Gauntlet business program and competition are learning about as they work to create their business plans. While starting a business can be overwhelming, they don’t have to do it alone. In fact, any successful entrepreneur will tell you, its essential to have help along the way. Tapping into the entrepreneurial ecosystem is a core lesson taught in the program.

“It’s become this incredible and very dynamic network of entrepreneurs, community leaders, economic development leaders. Everybody is a part of this system,” said Advancement Center President Annette Patterson during an online course of the Gauntlet.

She explained that while all great businesses start with a solution to problem, it takes much more than an idea or a passion to make it profitable.

“If you are starting a business, you may be passionate about what you are making for example, but you don’t really know anything about running a business,” Patterson said. That can include answering questions about what type of company to start, legalities surrounding the business model, tax help and licensing. It can be overwhelming. That’s why the Advancement Foundation, the organization behind the Gauntlet, helps pair entrepreneurs with experts and mentors to guide them. “Having mentors in the community that have been there and done that can really help shorten that learning curve and help you be more successful quicker,” Patterson said.

Often, local businesses support other local businesses, knowing they’re each stronger together. Amanda Forrester with the Roanoke Regional Small Business Development Center said that’s a trend in Southwest Virginia, especially during the pandemic. “The support for each other have increased,” Forrester said. “That collaboration and support has really made a huge difference.”

That’s part of why State Farm donated $35,000 to help businesses going through the Gauntlet this year.

“We believe in giving back to the neighborhoods we serve and we want to develop stronger neighborhoods by reinvesting in the community,” said State Farm spokesperson Kate Beadle.

With State Farm’s continued sponsorship, the Gauntlet has helped over 500 entrepreneurs from across our region start or expand their business. In addition, The Gauntlet has engaged 250 community mentors and raised cash and in-kind awards totaling more than $1.2 million. Top winners can receive up to $30,000 in cash and in-kind support.

Being part of the entrepreneurial ecosystem as a consumer can mean shopping local, or even sharing a business on social media or leaving a positive review.

The community plays a big role in creating an entrepreneurial ecosystem. To learn how you can get involved either as a mentor or donor click here.

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