It’s in with the “knew” in Washington County, where several local initiatives in place help entrepreneurs and small businesses start, grow and thrive.
“Entrepreneurs and small businesses can receive assistance any time from the Virginia Highlands Small Business Incubator, the Virginia Department of Small Business and Supplier Diversity, the VHCC Center for Business and Industry and the Washington County Chamber of Commerce, among others,” says Suzanne Lay, executive vice president of the Washington County Chamber of Commerce. “We also schedule events like an annual Washington County Business Plan Challenge as well as an informative weekly Noon Knowledge lunchtime business workshop series.”
The Virginia Highlands Small Business Incubator is a 40,000-square-foot building in Abingdon established to help startups and existing businesses expand by housing them and helping them develop.
“Our facility is equipped with high-speed Internet, conference facilities and low overhead costs to help startups and expanding companies until they build up their resources to eventually incubate out,” says Cathy Lowe, Virginia Highlands Small Business Incubator executive director. “We’ve had many success stories here, including thriving companies like Northrop Grumman, Round the Mountain, The Crooked Road and US Solutions.”
The Incubator also helps host the community’s annual Washington County Business Plan Challenge, which celebrated its fourth anniversary in 2017. The Challenge is a six-week competitive contest that runs from late January to early March, culminating in the selection of choosing winners who receive grant money to help launch or expand their businesses.
“There is $15,000 in total prize money for first-, second- and third-place winners in a Startup Business category, along with first-, second- and third-place winners in an Existing Business Expansion category,” Lowe says. “There is also another $1,000 award for whoever gives the best business plan pitch before a panel of respected judges.”
Industry sectors that Washington County wants to attract, and are open for competition by entrepreneurs and small businesses in the Challenge, are arts and culture, light manufacturing, outdoor recreation, restaurants and hospitality, retail and support services, technology/research and development, and value-added agriculture/agritourism.
Past Challenge winners include Adventure Mendota River Outfitters, Cuttin’ Up Hair Salon, Gibson’s Service Center, Me & Little Tree Gallery and Sweet Works Bakery.
“The Challenge usually begins with around 25 contestants and whittles down to about 12 after six consecutive weekly training and information sessions have been completed,” Lowe says. “The event is a really good way to help build our local economy.”
Knowledge at Noon
Also available to entrepreneurs and small businesses in Washington County is the Virginia Department of Small Business & Supplier Diversity, which helps startups and fledgling companies with finances and loans, advice on how to access markets to help business, and much more. The department also helps to back a Noon Knowledge Lunch Series that provides training seminars and group interactive experiences.
“Noon Knowledge is held every Wednesday from noon-1:30 p.m. at the Virginia Highlands Small Business Incubator, and all sessions are free,” says Sandy Ratliff, Virginia Department of Small Business and Supplier Diversity business services manager, Southwest Office. “The sessions cover a variety of topics such as Internet marketing, is your business tourism-friendly, how to use Quickbooks, how to develop a public relations strategy, and more.”
Livestream, Facebook & YouTube
Besides attending the Noon Knowledge seminars in person, the program also offers live streaming options via Livestream.com as well as on the Incubator’s Facebook page. In addition, if businesspeople want to watch the sessions at a later time, the seminars are available on the Noon Knowledge YouTube page.
“For example, through our first 64 sessions presented, we had 801 attendees as well as 1,419 YouTube views, 373 Livestream viewers and 1,028 Facebook Live viewers,” Ratliff says. “All of these options let businesses access valuable training and are more ways to help entrepreneurs and small-business owners experience success in Washington County.”