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SCCF’s S2V program gives boost to region’s entrepreneurs

Entrepreneurship is alive and well in the Northern Shenandoah Valley.

That’s the message that local business startups are willing to share when it comes to their experience with the Shenandoah Community Capital Fund’s (SCCF) Startup Shenandoah Valley (S2V) program.

Since the first cohort was announced in December 2020, 13 startup companies in the Northern Shenandoah Valley have participated in the program.

The program, which was initially funded in June of 2020 with more than $1 million in GO Virginia grant money, includes one-on-one virtual coaching, tailored mentoring, and support on all aspects of running a successful business — such as raising capital, recruiting and retaining top talent, marketing and legal issues, among others. Participants will become part of an alumni network of the Shenandoah Valley’s best companies and a growing entrepreneurial ecosystem.

The most recent cohort, which wrapped up in May, focused on technology-based startups.

Strassburg’s A.D. Carter, the owner and operator of Retail VR, said the program helps focus on the little, minute details that actually play a big role in the business process.

“Those little ins-and-outs pieces that no one knows about, that’s what keeps you going. Everyone only sees the results; they don’t see what it took to get there. They see milestone to milestone, but they don’t know the intricacies along the way,” Carter said. “S2V actually made that process of getting from milestone to milestone that much easier.”

Most entrepreneurs in the program typically have a business that is up and running. They’re likely looking for what to do next in marketing or how to maybe start a second location.

But the S2V program isn’t limited to functioning or flourishing businesses. Entrepreneurs at any stage in the process are encouraged to apply.

JD Oldaker, who is still in the building phases of his business that aims to bring the world of virtual reality and therapy together, met SCCF Entrepreneurial Ecosystem Builder Ryan Hall at an SCCF-sponsored tech event and pitched him a business idea.

That led to Oldaker, who is also a military veteran and current student at Shenandoah University, to apply for the S2V program.

Oldaker said having both sides of the business startup spectrum represented in the program is helpful.

“Most people in the program had a company that was developed and running. So, seeing where they’re at and what they’re having problems with will prepare me for the future,” he said. “Being able to state your problem or where you’re at with your company and get feedback from an entire group was great. I think having nine or so different sets of eyes on one problem, that’s a tremendous benefit.”

In addition to working toward navigating success, problem-solving plays a large role in the program’s efforts.

For example, Oldaker said he figured out during the program that his original business name was already taken, sending him back to the drawing board. Meanwhile, Carter said he learned how to better handle a situation he dealt with early on where someone he knew replicated his business process and became a direct competitor.

“It’s going to be very fluid in the approach. You have to know as a startup that you don’t know everything,” Carter said. “You’re going to have some hiccups along the way.”

With the last cohort focusing on technology, both Carter and Oldaker said it was interesting to see each business owner’s ideas and how they planned to implement — or were already implementing — that technology and the process of how it evolved.

Carter’s Retail VR specializes in 3D modeling of businesses that can be used for marketing, mapping, facilities management, emergency services and more.

Right now, he uses the technology to market businesses on main streets throughout Shenandoah County.

Oldaker, meanwhile, is working toward utilizing virtual reality to help mental health patients. Right now, he said VR is utilized to help PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), anxiety and phobias, but he’s looking more at childhood trauma that impacts an adult over time.

Oldaker said seeing where everyone else’s business stands helped him see more of the big picture about where he needs to go.

“Most successful businesses have two people — the big idea guy and the developer. I know what areas need to be attractive to be successful, now it’s about finding out how to create that vision. I’ve got to find a partner that’s going to help me push this out to the world,” he said. “All of the nitty gritty details about forms and documents, that’s all stuff that you can find guidance on. I worry more about how to market it, how to build it and how to push it. Those were things I learned during the program.”

Those connected with startups typically carry a certain type of optimism, and cohort members of the S2V program have been no different.

That same type of optimism has been evident in the Northern Shenandoah Valley, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, Carter and Oldaker agreed.

It has not only translated into a positive entrepreneurial spirit, but it’s kept families above water, they said.

“Back in the day, I used to be a claims adjuster in Northern Virginia and out in the Valley, and I loved doing work out here in the Valley because the people in the Valley are resilient,” Carter said. “They don’t wait for everyone to do it for them. They pick themselves up by the bootstraps and start doing. I can definitely say the Valley is a place where people get things done. I appreciate that, and that lends itself to a strong entrepreneurial nature.”

The S2V program is currently taking applications for Cohort 5 ,which will run from Sept. 5 through Oct. 27. Business owners looking to grow and expand their market in traded sectors are encouraged to apply.

“Submit an application. Don’t second-guess it; just submit the application,” Carter said. “Even if you don’t get in, you’re better off for trying. You’re guaranteed to fail if you don’t do anything. But you have a 50-50 shot at success if you try.”

For more information, visit sccfva.org/s2v/

-Matt Welch The Northern Virginia Daily

(This article originally appeared in The Northern Virginia Daily on July 17th, 2022)

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