What is Community Navigator?
Community Navigator is designed to amplify the work of existing entrepreneurial support organizations that are already positively impacting women and BIPOC entrepreneurs in the Shenandoah Valley. Over the course of two years, the Community Navigator pilot program will magnify the ecosystem of entrepreneurial support and engagement that has begun to position the region as a leader of rural entrepreneurship in the Commonwealth.
Why, When, Where
The roots of an equitable entrepreneurial ecosystem are beginning to take hold in the Shenandoah Valley, a region whose history has created institutionalized barriers for underserved communities. In response to these barriers, women and people of color have found ways to innovate outside of traditional industries. Namely, they have embraced entrepreneurship as a means of upward mobility. The Shenandoah Valley is a vast rural region, with a population of 523,000 (US Census Bureau). The aging population (increase of 2.5 years since 2010) is 83% white, 5.1% Black, 8% Hispanic, and 4.2% people of color. Over 85% of the Valley’s population have a high school diploma and only 25% have a bachelor’s degree, almost 10% lower than the national average. The primary focus of this pilot program are six localities with a total population of 453,673:
- Buena Vista
Outside of these localities, Community Navigator expands its reach to target women and entrepreneurs of color in the counties of Augusta, Frederick, Rockbridge, Rockingham and Shenandoah. The Small Business Administration identifies the majority of counties in the Shenandoah Valley as rural. Additionally, the Valley includes eight Economic Distress Tracts and seven localities have at least one low-income area. The Valley is truly a place where people can have it all — quality jobs, affordable living, work/life balance, and access to world-class outdoor recreation. Focusing on the entrepreneurial assets, the Shenandoah Valley has 2 Small Business Development Centers, 11 higher education institutions, 2 maker spaces, 5 coworking spaces, at least 6 entrepreneur support organizations, the Shenandoah Valley Angel Investor Network, as well as numerous revolving loan funds, including SCCF’s SBA Microloan Program. Each of these organizations participates in varying levels of involvement with the Shenandoah Valley Entrepreneurial Ecosystem Development Committee, but while the Shenandoah Valley’s reputation as an idyllic, rural, and collaborative region has encouraged positive economic growth for certain populations, support for entrepreneurs of color and women entrepreneurs is still greatly needed. While many great programs exist across the Shenandoah Valley, outreach and connection to those programs is limited, since these initiatives are often volunteer-led or have limited staffing available to them. The Community Navigator program is designed to build these organizations’ capacity and expand their reach and impact.
Challenges of women and BIPOC-entrepreneurs
Research shows that BIPOC and women-owned small businesses need short-term liquidity via immediate access to capital in the form of grants and low-interest loans. To better ensure financial resiliency for the long-term, they also need access to education and community networks COVID 19's Effect on Minority Owned Small Business – McKinsey).
In response to these unique challenges, the Shenandoah Community Capital Fund will leverage and amplify the work of 5 community organizations that are directly supporting entrepreneurs of color and women entrepreneurs in the Shenandoah Valley through a Hub and spoke model.
A Hub & Spoke Model for the Shenandoah Valley
Meet the Hub: SCCF
The Shenandoah Community Capital Fund (SCCF), formerly known as the Staunton Creative Community Fund, is 501(c)3 nonprofit entrepreneurial support organization serving the entire Shenandoah Valley. Over the past 14 years the organization has expanded and innovated alongside the region’s entrepreneurs to become one of the lead conveners in the region’s entrepreneurial ecosystem. SCCF’s ability to nimbly move throughout the region gives the organization a unique advantage in serving entrepreneurs and connecting resource providers. Since 2019, SCCF has responded to a gradual transition in the region’s entrepreneurial landscape. This shift sparked a new focus within SCCF, and the organization embraced an entrepreneurial ecosystem-building approach to economic and community development. Although SCCF’s mission has broadened, the organization has retained an emphasis on equity and accessibility and creating pathways to entrepreneurship for all communities in the Shenandoah Valley. As a result, SCCF, along with 17 partner organizations, created the first region-wide ecosystem collaboration in the Valley. Through the support of a GO Virginia grant, SCCF launched the Startup Shenandoah Valley (S2V) program and continues to support entrepreneurs and business owners of all background in the Shenandoah Valley.
We understand that starting or expanding a business is challenging. SCCF can help you navigate the pitfalls, detours, highs, and lows of starting or expanding a small business. In a world of cold calculations and high-interest loans, we are a safe place for dreamers and schemers to imagine the possibilities, ask questions, and get the funding they need in order to succeed. We are your team.
While based in Staunton, we’ve continued to grow and now serve the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia.
Through the amazing support of our staff, board members, volunteers, and donors, SCCF is able to provide programs and services that reach entrepreneurs all over the Shenandoah Valley. Each individual that works with SCCF is passionate and committed to helping entrepreneurs turn their dreams into reality.
Meet the Spokes
The Walker Program
Walker Program – Lexington, VA – The Harry Lee & Eliza Bannister Walker Entrepreneurship Program (“The Walker Program”) was established in August 2020 to provide training, funding, and community support for Black-owned businesses in Lexington, Buena Vista, and Rockbridge, Virginia. The Walker Program is a volunteer initiative headed by a board representing local civic, business, and religious organizations, aimed at training, funding, and supporting new and expanding businesses owned by people of color in our area. The program combines business development, professional training in small business management, grant funding and ongoing support during the critical start-up stage.
Begun in the late summer of 2020 with the goal of helping launch 4 to 6 new businesses in the Rockbridge area in 2021, the program has raised in excess of $160,000 for the Grant Fund through private donations; enlisted expert help from lawyers, accountants, insurance agents, business professors and experienced entrepreneurs; and trained more than a dozen individuals. In April 2021, the Walker Program awarded the first grants to four new businesses.
Through the Community Navigator program and in partnership with SCCF, the Walker Program will formalize the training program, hire a program coordinator, establish a physical small business incubator and marketplace, The Walker Place Hub. The businesses that choose to launch in “Walker Place” will benefit from 1) a physical place to start and expand their business, 2) proximity to other supportive businesses to build on the personal and professional bonds established during the training program, 3) access to resident Walker mentors housed under the same roof, and 4) shared services, such as internet and office equipment.
Black and Brown Owned Business Growth Program (B-Cubed)
B-Cubed, led by the Harrisonburg Rockingham Chamber of Commerce’s Diversity Business Council, is a partnership between the Chamber, the Shenandoah Valley Small Business Development Center, Harrisonburg Economic Development, and Harrisonburg Downtown Renaissance, which seeks to encourage increasing investment from existing Black and Brown businesses within the Harrisonburg-Rockingham metro area. B-Cubed also strives to create a welcoming culture that will attract new Black and Brown-owned business ventures to locate within our community. B-Cubed blends a combination of comprehensive business support including business plan development or improvement, marketing guidance, technical assistance, micro-grants, mentorship, and networking support.
The program is open to any existing Black and Brown-owned business located within Harrisonburg or Rockingham County. “The greater vision behind B-Cubed is to exponentially grow both the quantity and variety of Black and Brown businesses in our community,” commented Chris Jones, Chair of the Chamber’s Diversity Business Council. “In addition, we want to help our existing Black and Brown businesses thrive and expand.” The B-Cubed program has already supported 10 entrepreneurs and provided 4 grants to Black and Brown businesses in the Harrisonburg-Rockingham region.
As the B-Cubed program continues to gain traction and grow the number of participants, the Community Navigator Program will allow them to build capacity through hiring a program coordinator and offering more free business development services to Black and Brown entrepreneurs.
The RISE Organization creates safe space for community and learning. Founded in 2017, Chanda McGuffin and Sharon Fritz set out to be a vehicle for giving voice to the voiceless, strength to the weak, and support for the lost within the Black community. RISE aims to give hope back to the Black community. As a key partner in this program, RISE Organization will not only support Black entrepreneurs but expand their community efforts to facilitate race relations, diversity training, conflict resolution, and team building workshops.
Grow Waynesboro is a business support and development program sponsored by the Office of Economic Development for the City of Waynesboro. Grow Waynesboro launched in 2016 as an initiative to find, fund, and support the community’s newest entrepreneurs. Over the first year, the program interviewed community residents about their visions for the local economy, gave away more than $20,000 to deserving start-up businesses, and jump-started a conversation about how to create a dynamic and exciting local economy in the city.
In 2017, the program more than doubled the amount of start-up grants invested in the community. Local entrepreneurs received $51,000 in grant funding and expert business training provided by SCCF during the 2017 start-up grant competition. In 2018, local sponsors stepped up to the plate and the program was able to award four more businesses with over $20,000, creating jobs and building on the culture of entrepreneurship in Waynesboro.
As part of the ongoing efforts to chronicle and celebrate the local economy, Grow Waynesboro also compiled profiles of successful entrepreneurs at the Meet the Entrepreneurs page, enabling the community to learn from and be inspired by the amazing business owners who are already growing and vitalizing Waynesboro’s local economy. The program has all the structure it needs to continue to support entrepreneurship in the area and with the Community Navigator money we would be able to bring on additional programming, staff, and be able to focus on women and entrepreneurs of color.
Shenandoah University, Institute for Entrepreneurship
Shenandoah University Institute for Entrepreneurship will offer programs open to aspiring entrepreneurs in the Shenandoah Valley Region. The Entrepreneurship and Small Business Certificate (ESBC) program is designed to include flexible delivery platforms such as face-to-face, and synchronous and asynchronous online. The CO.STARTERS Core serves as the base curriculum for ESBC. Participants strengthen their entrepreneurial skills and are prepared to be up and running as a business owner at the end of the course. Course content includes guest lectures from experienced business professionals on topics such as acquiring funding for small businesses; fundamentals of business law; important accounting principles; social media marketing tactics; understanding business insurance and the risks, benefits, opportunities, and drawbacks of being an entrepreneur; development of a sales strategy; instruction on how to interpret basic financial statements; and more.
There will also be networking with local entrepreneurs, the Small Business Administration, and county and state officials; mentoring and coaching from local and experienced entrepreneurs. The program concludes with a pitch competition for participants to channel their inner “Shark Tank” ambitions, with opportunities to win cash prizes for top business ideas.
Shenandoah University’s Institute for Entrepreneurship will host several three-hour virtual CO.STARTERS Get Started Workshops to equip aspiring and established entrepreneurs with the insights, relationships, and tools they need to turn raw ideas into action and bring business goals to fruition. In these workshops, participants have the opportunity to understand what’s driving their business ideas and explore these ideas through the CO.STARTERS Canvas. Participants refine their model by learning ways to get meaningful customer feedback. They also collaborate with members of the community and make valuable connections to help them along the way.