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Launch Gloucester: An Innovative Way to Bring Small Businesses to Main Street

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Launch Gloucester: An Innovative Way to Bring Small Businesses to Main Street

By: Steve Sadler, CEO, Allegiancy

May 22, 2015

There are more than 27 million small businesses in this country that represent America’s economic backbone and the world’s greatest emerging economy.

By the end of September, you’ll be able to add four more Gloucester County, Va. businesses to that total. On May 19, I attended the awards presentation for Launch Gloucester, an innovative program promoted by Governor McAuliffe to grow small businesses in this picturesque, quaint historic downtown village.

Launch Gloucester describes itself as a program that “empowers entrepreneurs, educates and arms them with the tools they need to start their businesses in Gloucester, Va., creating jobs and fulfilling dreams.”

Main Street In Historic Gloucester

Located an hour east of Richmond on Chesapeake Bay, and just across the York River from Williamsburg and Yorktown, Gloucester is a county of 38,000 people steeped in history with a culture centered around the water, families and outdoor activities.

It’s the former home of Pocahontas and George Washington’s grandparents and has a charming, historic Main Street — the circa 1766 county courthouse on Main Street is still in use today — that’s home to a growing number of thriving small businesses.

Beautiful storefronts, luscious flowering plantings and hanging baskets and a real sense of community makes Gloucester village special. This is thanks in no small part to the Gloucester Main Street Association and Gloucester’s Main Street Preservation Trust, two non-profit organizations dedicated for more than a decade, to seeing Main Street in the Gloucester village area continue to be a flourishing destination for businesses, shoppers and visitors alike.

What Was Launch Gloucester?

Think Shark Tank on a local scale, with a much more supportive and friendly vibe.

The Launch Gloucester program is an innovative, outside-the-box concept to incubate small businesses. With a focus on education and ongoing support, Launch Gloucester offered entrepreneurs an MBA level course in real world business. Quite frankly, we could use more of these types of programs in this state and country that give entrepreneurs the tools to launch their business ideas and that at the same time will benefit their communities.

It was funded as part of Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s Virginia Community Launch initiative where three communities across the state, including Gloucester, received $100,000 each to develop an entrepreneur training and launch program on Main Streets throughout the Commonwealth.

History tells us that the real hope for the nation’s economy is small businesses and the Main Streets of the U.S., not Wall Street, gaining access to capital they need to grow (enter the JOBs act and new Reg A which will allow businesses to do just that), the Launch Gloucester program subscribed and invested in the idea that new businesses on Main Street would lead to more jobs and opportunity.

The Winners

The three winners of Launch Gloucester shared $95,000 worth of goods, services and start-up capital. From the start, the interest in Launch Gloucester was tremendous.

The number of initial applicants topped 40 and was whittled down to an eclectic mix of 10 entrepreneurial finalists who represented a broad spectrum of businesses. The 10 finalists received what I would call an MBA-level education during an eight week entrepreneur training program; even those who didn’t win one of the awards received a top-flight business education with elements including planning, finances, marketing and even the risks and rewards of owning a business.

I was a judge for the “pitch night” presentations in early May that was a precursor to the awards ceremony (one of the Sharks, so to speak, in this friendly Shark Tank). I saw risk-takers with enough passion and faith in their dreams to put in the hard work required by a 10-week accelerated learning environment in the hopes of winning the capital to give them a boost to starting a business.

The presentations the entrepreneurs gave at pitch night were on par with what you would hear from business owners raising $20 million to $30 million. What impressed me about the presentations was the quality and thought in preparation, and even the responses to some of the panel’s tough questions. These entrepreneurs were well-prepared and it showed.

Crystal Burton came out ahead as the overall first place winner. She’s planning on an expansion of her Sweet Tooth Parlor from a small bake shop and cupcakery into a full-blown cafe and bakery featuring fresh, local and healthy ingredients.

She’s the recipient of more than $48,000 in prizes to include $20,000 in capital, $1,800 in rent and utility abatement, a marketing and communications package valued at $19,000, a 60-second commercial and a grand opening party.

Second place went to Karin Fary of The Nines Pet Boutique and Photography. Her business will feature stylish pet related clothing, accessories, collars and leashes, pet photography and products to include grooming supplies, organic treats and cat and dog products.

Fary is receiving a prize package valued at more than $30,000, to include $10,000 in capital, $1,200 in rent and utility abatement and a marketing and communications package valued at $13,000.

The third-place winners were Jill Reece and Ginger Platsis of “Essential Wellness and Bodywork.” They will be expanding their existing business, which blends nutrition, massage and holistic wellness, by moving it onto Main Street.

The prize package for Reece and Platsis is valued at more than $18,000 and includes $5,000 in capital, $600 in rent and utility abatement and a marketing and communications package valued at more than $9,000.

In a surprise development, a Gloucester non-profit organization, the Cook Foundation, gave a $5,000 grant to one of the applicants who didn’t win but had an arts element. George Cramer, of The Village Blacksmith, is the recipient of that grant and plans to launch a custom metal work, blacksmithing, bladesmithing, reproduction, restoration, repair, welding, fabrication training and consulting on low- to high-end custom and artistic metal work.

I want to extend my congratulations to the winners, the people behind the scenes who made it all happen and the community of Gloucester. The businesses are scheduled to be open by Sept. 30, perhaps sooner for some of them, and I want to extend an invitation to you to come visit Main Street in Gloucester and see what’s happening in this thriving, historic village.

About Steve Sadler

Sadler is the driving force behind Allegiancy, a Richmond-based commercial real estate asset manager. The firm is a highly-specialized, fee-based investment manager in secondary markets.

Allegiancy is poised to become a national leader in the new small business crowdfunding movement. Allegiancy plans to raise at least $30 million in capital this year through a public securities offering under the SEC’s new Regulation A (A+), which increases the maximum amount a private company can raise from $5 million to $50 million a year.

About Allegiancy

Allegiancy manages approximately $300 million in commercial real estate assets. The company’s portfolio of properties has delivered returns that outperformed their peers by 45 percent since 2006. With a leadership team that has more than 100 years of experience, the company grew by 62 percent last year, largely due to referrals from satisfied clients.

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