KEYSVILLE, Va., April 10, 2015 — Maria Hamilton didn’t intend to start her own business. A stay-at-home mom, friends began asking her to bake cakes and cupcakes like those she made for her children's birthday parties. Three years ago, on a whim, she started a Facebook fan page just to post pictures of her cupcakes. Before she knew it, Hamilton was in business.
But, while Hamilton had plenty of experience making delicious cupcakes, she was at a loss when it came to running a business. Last fall she registered for the UpStart Entrepreneur Bootcamp, sponsored by Virginia’s Growth Alliance (VGA) and held at Longwood University in Farmville, Virginia.
“The bootcamp gave me the tools I needed to run my business,” said Hamilton. Through Maria’s Sweet Creations, Maria supplements her family’s income. “The business means I don’t have to work 9-5 in an office and can be there for my kids,” said Hamilton.
VGA is offering the free bootcamp again this May. The course, available through the Longwood Small Business Development Center, includes six weekly meetings, online materials, one-on-one feedback and mentoring by teachers. Local business experts also share their knowledge with students, covering topics such as business plan development, finances, marketing and considerations for brick-and-mortar retail businesses. The final week of the course is spent crafting a compelling pitch and provides an opportunity to present to potential investors.
While Hamilton initially fell into business, the course gave her the tools she needed to grow and continue in business. Starting a business is tough and survival is not guaranteed. Fifty percent of new businesses close in less than five years, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Only 30 percent survive 15 years. Before the bootcamp, the former teacher was on the fence about her business. “I was still looking at help wanted ads,” she said. However, because of the course, she made the leap, finally buying her business license. “I realized I could make it,” explained Hamilton.
This isn’t just a course; it truly is a bootcamp designed to ensure business success. “Our emphasis is on the initial hypothesis,” says facilitator Dr. Nicholas Langlie, director of innovation and entrepreneurship at Longwood University. With a cohort of fellow entrepreneurs, students will craft an idea that people love. “It will always be about failing forward until you have passionate customers who are willing to pay for a product or service,” explained Langlie. ‘It is called ‘product market fit’ generally, and our take on it is unparalleled.”
The bootcamp will provide resources that extend beyond the initial six weeks, including access to materials, continued instructor feedback and camaraderie. The bootcamp cohort works closely together to provide a support network and professional feedback.
Virginia’s Growth Alliance is dedicated to helping small businesses succeed in south-central Virginia. It serves Amelia, Brunswick, Buckingham, Charlotte, Cumberland, Greensville, Mecklenburg, Nottoway, Lunenburg, and Prince Edward counties, and the City of Emporia.
“A recent study by Longwood University shows that nearly 80 percent of all business within the region employee five people or less,” said Executive Director Jeffrey G. Reed. “Small businesses are the backbone of our economy and entrepreneurs are the backbone of small businesses.” In addition to the UpStart Entrepreneur Bootcamp, VGA offers mentoring, low-interest loans, and online storefront and marketing guidance for small businesses in the region. (For more information, visit www.vgagroundswell.com)
For more information on the UpStart Entrepreneur Bootcamp visit call 434-395-2360 or email Jennifer Baldwin at firstname.lastname@example.org. The location of the bootcamp will be based on the highest concentration of interest in the VGA region.