By Daniel Robinson, contributor
Hillary Hamman, owner of The Quirky Closet, a plus size women’s clothing boutique in Winchester, received a loan in late 2021 to help fund a new brick-and-mortar location on Loudon Street after a leak in the original location at on East Boscawen Street.
The loan, though, didn’t come from a bank. Hamman received it from the Shenandoah Community Capital Fund, a Staunton-based organization aimed at supporting entrepreneurs in the Valley. The SCCF has been growing, adding 10 staff in recent months with the help of several large grants. The organization now has a staff of 14. And it’s expanding its programming.
Hamman said if not for SCCF’s support, “I might have lost my business.”
Katie Overfield-Zook, whose title is entrepreneurial ecosystem builder, describes the organization as “convener” of the entrepreneurial network in the Valley — not the owner of it.
To Overfield-Zook, an entrepreneurial ecosystem ensures that anyone who wants to get involved in entrepreneurial activity can easily figure out where — and how — they fit. It is also one that makes information easy to find. Her role is to help shape that network through the programs and strategies.
Nick Koger, the capital fund’s director of outreach and a former participant in their programs, said SCCF “wants to activate people who are already entrepreneurs in the community.”
SCCF also is scheduling new programs, including the Tech Stars Startup event hosted at JMU in April, in which people can come in with an idea and, over a weekend, build a team and business pitch.
Connection is a vital part of the work at SCCF, Overfield-Zook said.
“We are always happy to talk to people about what they are doing and creating connections,” she said. “We’re here to serve the community.”
From an artists’ fund to entrepreneurship
SCCF operated from 2008-2021 as the Staunton Creative Community Fund, which was primarily geared toward helping artisans, writers, musicians and other creatives.
A 2018 study from a business development research firm Teconomy Partners, LLC, showed the Shenandoah Valley needs entrepreneurial support and scalable businesses.
SCCF began partnering with other organizations and businesses around the region and found the original name was too local to Staunton. The name change to Shenandoah Community Capital Fund in March 2021 reflected the expanded approach, while allowing easier connection with partners across the Valley.
SCCF offers funds directly to entrepreneurs in the form of microloans. These are low interest, competitive loans that range from $1,000 to $50,000. The fund also offers better interest rates than many traditional business loans.
And it manages the Virginia Individual Development Account (VIDA) program, a savings account that matches $8 for every $1 saved by the individual — up to $500 saved. So, if a participant saved $500, that account would have a total of $4,500 at the end of the program. It’s intended to help entrepreneurs absorb some of the risk inherent in launching their dreams.
Bootcamps and Startup class
Programs that support the entrepreneurship process are the Bootcamp and Startup Shenandoah Valley (S2V). The SCCF Business Bootcamp is an eight-week class designed to take entrepreneurs through the fundamentals of business creation. They also offer access to expert advice on things like accounting and patents.
The S2V program offers support in scaling up an existing business, including with one-on-one coaching, mentorship and networking.
Shanna Mann, owner of Central Virginia Prep, an e-commerce warehousing service, took part in S2V to grow her already existing business. Mann said she was attracted to the program because it is free and accepts business owners who are ready to scale up.
It is the “only service of its kind for growth stage businesses” in the Valley, Mann said.
SCCF also is seeking to build a network in the Valley called “The Hub,” an online platform for identifying and sharing information about the entrepreneurial ecosystem. The Hub will use artificial intelligence to keep the content current.
SCCF is working to take the take some of the burden off entrepreneurs and make the path from idea to successful business even smoother.
For Hillary Hamann of The Quirky Closet, it wasn’t just the loan and the skills but the support SCCF offered as she re-established her business.
“It was lots of work,” she said, “but they held my hand along the way.”
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