Amherst County’s vision is to create a community culture that serves as a magnet and a support system for people starting and growing businesses. Amherst County launched into the Certified Entrepreneurial Community® (CEC®) Program in October 2016 with a community entrepreneurship retreat at Sweet Briar College. Over the next 14 months, the CEC® Leadership Team, with the active support of community leaders, entrepreneurs, and informal advisors, started the ambitious journey of creating a more ‘entrepreneur friendly’ community. Amherst County is the first community outside of NC (where the CEC® program started) to be certified.
From the beginning, it was evident that Amherst County was equipped with entrepreneurs willing to lead and engage others in the business community to work with public sector partners on building a place where businesses can thrive. This foundation of positive relationships among government, entrepreneurs, non-profits, educational institutions, and regional agencies has allowed the CEC® Leadership Team to make significant strides in advancing the entrepreneurial ecosystem of Amherst County. Local entrepreneurs now say there is a buzz about Amherst County as a business location and a greater sense of public and private sectors working together.
In the CEC® program, communities identify two entrepreneurship initiatives that will engage and support entrepreneurs. In order to be certified, the community must accomplish tasks outlined on a Score Card for each initiative. The two initiatives Amherst County launched are:
- 1. Create an Entrepreneur Network; and
- 2. Coordinate the Promotion of Business Resources
At their first self-organized meeting, the project team created an organizing name and logo with the acronym LINK: Learn / Inform / Network / Knowledge.
They held the first event with a farrier turned brewery owner telling his story. There were two additional meetings in 2017. Amherst County High School is a full partner in building the LINK. Amherst County culinary students prepared the food for the first entrepreneur meet-up and entrepreneurship and technology students made and distributed posters.
Coordinate the Promotion of Business Resources
The resource partners in the region – economic development, merchants’ association, community college, Sweet Briar College, chamber, SBDC, community bank, etc. — met to coordinate their offerings and their primary output is a matrix of the priority resources for business startups and small businesses. It is posted on the Amherst County economic development website and the other organizations link to it.
Each of the lead organizations will take responsibility for getting business owners and startups to the more specialized resources so that there is no wrong door for anyone starting or growing a business in Amherst County.
Amherst County’s plans for CEC® next year are to broaden the leadership network of entrepreneurs and to launch a social media and storytelling campaign on Amherst County as a place to do business.
If you are interested in how your community can become entrepreneur-ready, check out the CEC® website or talk with Victoria Hanson in Amherst County, VA or Irena Krstanovic in Holly Springs . Holly Springs completed their certification in November.