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With the pandemic winding down, many people are considering starting their own business for the first time.

Meanwhile, existing business owners are exploring how they can capture new revenue by expanding their products, services and markets. A new program presented by SOVA Innovation Hub, the Longwood Small Business Development Center (SBDC) and GO Virginia Region 3 will provide help for these entrepreneurs, fueling more economic growth for the region. 

Applications are currently being accepted for CO.STARTERS Core, a 10-week, cohort-based program that will be delivered virtually via Zoom. CO.STARTERS walks people with creative business ideas through lean, effective business modeling methods in a simple and intuitive way while connecting them to a supportive community of peers and mentors. After completing the program, participants will have the insights, relationships, and tools needed to turn their business ideas into action.

“The CO.STARTERS program is a proven model that has helped people in rural communities across the country learn business fundamentals in the context of their particular idea,” said Lauren Mathena of the SOVA Innovation Hub. “We are hopeful to see applicants with a range of ideas, including manufacturing, technology, agriculture, and forestry innovations.”

Rather than writing a detailed business plan, CO.STARTERS participants are encouraged to build and test small models first. In the process, participants receive real-time customer feedback, update their models to meet customer needs, and avoid creating businesses based on incorrect assumptions. The CO.STARTERS program draws from the experience of successful entrepreneurs from around the world and has served more than 200 communities across the United States, New Zealand and Australia.

CO.STARTERS is new to Southern Virginia and will be facilitated by Longwood SBDC consultants, who have been certified in the CO.STARTERS model and are knowledgeable of the regional economy. 

“Coming out of the pandemic, we are seeing an increase in interest and activity around new business starts and existing business pivots,” noted Sheri McGuire of the Longwood SBDC. “The CO.STARTERS program will harness that energy, build capacity in new local business leaders, and forge connections that will result in community collaborations. This is an excellent opportunity for the businesses that participate and for our local economy.”

The virtual program will kick off August 18, 2021, and will run for 10 weeks on Wednesday evenings from 6pm-9pm. To be eligible for the program, individuals need to have a business idea that could be launched in Southern Virginia. In order to participate in the program, participants must have high-speed internet access and a device that will allow them to share video and see speaker presentations.

Those without access to high-speed internet at home are encouraged to contact their local library or community center to explore available resources for internet access.

“Small business is the backbone of local economies in our region, and the CO.STARTERS program will  result in an increase in our numbers of businesses, jobs, and success,” said Bryan David, GO Virginia Region 3 Program Director. “The return on investment - in terms of both program funding and in the time of our participants- will be significant. 

To learn more and to apply to the program, visit sbdc-longwood.com/costarters. The application deadline is August 6, 2021. Questions about the program can be directed to sbdc@longwood.edu or (434) 395-2086.

The Southern Virginia (SOVA) regional entrepreneurship initiative is a joint program of the SOVA Innovation Hub and Longwood University’s Office of Community and Economic Development. It is funded in part by GO Virginia, a state-funded initiative administered by the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) that strengthens and diversifies Virginia's economy and fosters the creation of higher-wage jobs in strategic industries. This initiative is also funded in part by the Longwood Small Business Development Center, which is funded through a cooperative agreement with the U.S. Small Business Administration, George Mason University, and local host institutions. The Virginia SBDC is nationally accredited by America’s SBDC. For more information, please visit https://sovainnovationhub.com/rei.

CO.STARTERS helps individuals and communities thrive through entrepreneurship by equipping them with strategies, tools, and relationships. Building on initial grassroots efforts with small businesses starting in Chattanooga, Tennessee, the CO.STARTERS network now has an international reach with thousands of annual participants. Since 2008, CO.STARTERS has helped more than 690 local leaders across 200+ communities, helping more than 12,000 starters move forward with their ventures. The hallmarks of the CO.STARTERS approach to entrepreneur support are investment in the individual, peer learning in a community context, and simple and relatable tools. From the beginning, CO.STARTERS has pioneered a community-based approach to economic development and has played a leading national role in increasing small business success and growing entrepreneurial ecosystems. For more information on CO.STARTERS, please visit https://www.costarters.co/.

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