Business basics classes offered in Altavista, Lynchburg, Bedford
As part of a national trend of economic development, three different localities in the region have developed business basics classes coupled with funding to help launch small businesses.
Altavista has retooled its Pop-Up Altavista business launch program with a new curriculum, Lynchburg has adopted the Co.Starters entrepreneurial program and Bedford just has finished up its independently run Bedford Business Bootcamp course.
Modeled after the success of the original entrepreneurship start-up program Pop-Up Marion, Altavista successfully launched Pop-Up Altavista last year. Participants went through a six-week business essentials and team-building class and eventually competed for funds provided by a grant from the Virginia Department of Community Development.
Now the program has been rebooted into Pop-Up Altavista 2.0, which will be running this fall. Instead of following the curriculum from independent sources and borrowing from the success in Marion, the newly redesigned course will be eight weeks and is based on a program called Growth Wheel.
Originally developed for one-on-one counseling with businesses of all sizes, the Virginia Small Business Development Center purchased the license to the program and trained their business counselors across Virginia to use it. The Small Business Development Center office headquartered at Central Virginia Community College then developed it into the newly formatted Pop-Up Altavista program.
“Rather than us just pull something together, not that there was anything wrong with anything before, but now we have work that we can do together as a group for the entrepreneurship program,” Small Business Development Center Program Specialist Stephanie Keener said. “It’s really just a toolkit to ask you a series of questions and make better decisions so your business process is more focused.”
While the class will have team-building and networking exercises, the program is focused individually.
“We will be having teamwork and networking, but this program is very much about how you work with your business,” Keener said.
Lynchburg has adopted the program Co.Starters. Developed by a company in Chattanooga, Tennessee, Co.Starters is much more peer focused. Originally developed as a small group-led program, the curriculum is based on networking and group discussion.
“You’re not being taught at,” Assistant Director of Lynchburg Economic Development Anna Bentson said. “Instead the facilitator takes you through this program, and you’re learning from your peers.”
Instead of focusing on the more technical aspects of how to launch and run a business, the nine-week course is about working with a group to shape your business plan and get to know your customer.
“It helps people test their idea in a very safe collaborative environment,” Bentson said. “We consider this a really good place to start before you go get financing or apply for loans.”
The first cohort of Co.Starters just finished last month with five businesses awarded grants to help them either launch or expand. For the first year, the program was funded by a grant from the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development. This enabled Lynchburg Economic Development to award $40,000 in grant money. Moving forward, future cohorts only will compete for $5,000 which has been budgeted for the annual program.
Bedford Business Bootcamp also finished its first cohort this month. Also based on the original Pop-Up Marion program, Bedford’s course is an independently developed curriculum and is funded by private donations from American National Bank and Union Bank and Trust.
“We’re not in a position to spend money on a curriculum, so we were looking for free resources that have already proven effective in other areas,” Bedford Main Street Executive Director Sarah Smith said. “We’re being serious and intentional. We’re not just saying, ‘Hey any business is great.’ We’re being very strategic and making sure those businesses that come in will fit the greater community vision.”
Bedford is in the process of applying for a grant from the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development to expand its program for next year. Still planning to stick to the independently developed curriculum, it will be adding extra resources and guest speakers.
While these programs are new, the Lynchburg Business Development Center has been running business basics classes for years. With a greater emphasis on business management in a traditional classroom setting, this course runs for six weeks and does not provide the potential of competing for money at the end.
“There are resources readily available for local residents to see if they have what it takes to start a business,” Business Development Center Director Byron Steward said. “The natural progression is to go from something like Co.Starters and then come get some of the hard skills from us.”
According to Bentson, these programs are not supposed to be independent of each other.
“It’s just different options for different people,” she said. “I don’t think any of these programs are meant to be the end-all, be-all. They can be used together and layered together.”
The goal of these programs is to help increase the knowledge business owners have before starting the process, according to Keener.
“Every business that closes, even if it’s small, is a drain on our program,” she said. “Solvent businesses are so important to the backbone of any place. If our businesses don’t function correctly then our economy doesn’t function correctly.”