If you only know Asheville from picture postcards, you might think pretty mountains and tourist destinations were the end of the story. But while Asheville's population is less than 100,000, it's a place that's packed with the kind of startups, incubators, co-working spaces, business community support and commercial resources that you find in much bigger cities. It's this combination of small-city living and big-city opportunity that makes it an ideal place for entrepreneurs who want to develop quality products and services without sacrificing quality of life.
Success Is Brewing
Adam Charnack is the founder and owner of Hi-Wire Brewing Co. While his company has risen on the wave created by North Carolina's craft brewery craze, he knows there's something special about Asheville-based businesses.
“If someone is doing local and they're doing it well, neighbors and tourists will jump all over it,” Charnack says. “It's part of the culture of the people who live here: they love and respect local; they love and respect craft; they love and respect art. It's a hometown scene here, and the support from the community is incredible.”
Charnack loves his customers, but he's also enthusiastic about the investment opportunities Hi-Wire's secured.
“We've received two different loans from two different commercial banks. Their willingness to talk with us, and their willingness to work with us has been unprecedented,” Charnack says. “These banks speak beer and they understand the business.”
Highlighting High Growth
Asheville's growing reputation as an entrepreneurial hub is no accident.
The city's Economic Development Coalition (a department of the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce) has worked hard to attract startups and entrepreneurs, and it has followed up with programs and resources designed to ensure their success. One of the EDC's most ambitious initiatives, Venture Asheville, catalyzes the city's high-growth entrepreneurial ecosystem by connecting entrepreneurs with the funding, mentors and talent they need to grow.
“We have a foundation to work from, to build on. We've got a ways to go, but we're not starting from zero,” says Josh Dorfman, Venture Asheville's director of entrepreneurship. “We know that Asheville has terrific small business entrepreneurs, fantastic lifestyle entrepreneurs running all of the breweries, restaurants and galleries. Venture Asheville is going to focus on transforming Asheville into a thriving hub for top-tier entrepreneurs who build world-class companies.”
Keeping It Local
Manufacturing and tech loom large in the city's vision of its future, and while Asheville lacks the research university that might typically anchor a biotech sector, its Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College has become a hub of resources for the development of natural food, skin care and health products. The campus' BioNetwork Natural Products lab offers testing services and ensures good manufacturing practices and regulatory compliance for entrepreneurs developing products that take advantage of the area's rich biodiversity.
Next door, Blue Ridge Food Ventures and Natural Products Manufacturing Line is a 11,000-square-foot shared-use kitchen incubator and natural products manufacturing facility. These facilities demonstrate the kind of resourcefulness-meets-local-flavor that makes Asheville's entrepreneurial community one-of-a-kind.
Back at Hi-Wire, Adam Charnack sums up that spirit best:
“People care deeply about the community in Asheville. And because it's off the beaten path, we can ensure that our growth continues to be a real reflection of this place.”
We'll drink to that.