Videos telling the stories of 15 businesses and the people who started them—five apiece in Wilkes, Ashe and Alleghany counties—will be among features of a new website promoting entrepreneurism in northwestern North Carolina.
The “Startup Northwest NC” website is scheduled to be launched in December at startupnwnc.com, said Dr. Jeff Cox, Wilkes Community College president. He discussed the WCC initiative during the Oct. 11 Wilkes Economic Development Corp. board meeting.
The five businesses in Wilkes featured are Copper Barrel Distillery, InfusionPoints (cyber security), Anchor Coffee, TwoBoros Brewery and Herbal Ingenuity LLC (botanical products wholesaler).
Startup Northwest NC is one of five similar efforts, each launched by a community college in western North Carolina for its respective primary service area. The other four are Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College in Asheville, Catawba Valley Community College in Hickory, Tri-County Community College in Murphy and Cleveland Community College in Shelby.
The other four had already started and “I felt like if we didn’t have something like this saying, ‘Why Wilkes County,’ ‘Why Ashe County’ or ‘Why Alleghany County,’ we were going to be behind the 8-ball,” said Cox.
“I’m excited about seeing this unfold and make our case for why here,” he added. The objective is revitalizing rural economies and preventing the “loss of some of our best and brightest kids who get a good education here and then feel like they have to leave to get a good opportunity in life.”
Cox said fostering entrepreneurship is an essential aspect of keeping those bright minds from moving away.
“Ecosystem building is job one” for promoting entrepreneurship and the key ingredients of this are capital, counseling, connections and training support, he said. “Entrepreneurs need access to all these things to be successful.”
He added that statistics indicate an even larger percentage of new private sector jobs will be generated by small businesses.
The WCC-led effort is unique among the western N.C. community college initiatives in that it has pages for each of the three counties (Wilkes, Ashe and Alleghany) in its primary service area because leaders in each wanted their counties promoted separately.
“We know each wants that next entrepreneur business to be in their county, and that’s okay and as it should be.” Competition is healthy, but the overall goal is drawing people to northwest North Carolina because individuals can travel across county lines to work, he explained.
Cox said regional partnerships are smart strategy to help rural counties compete with urban areas of the state rather than against each other. “Hopefully, we’ve found the right balance between regionalism and individual county identities.”
Each of the three county pages on the website will have a longer video promoting that county. Features of the Wilkes video will include Wilkes Economic Development President LeeAnn Nixon, Wilkes Chamber of Commerce President Linda Cheek and Startup Northwest NC financial supporters in Wilkes, among others.
Financial supporters in Wilkes are Wilkes County government, Wilkes Chamber of Commerce, Wilkes Economic Development Corp., Wilkes Communications, Louisiana-Pacific, Piedmont Federal, Gary Daemer and Jim Smoak. Cox said he plans to check back with the towns of Wilkesboro and North Wilkesboro about contributing.
The Startup Northwest NC home page will have a video telling why northwestern N.C. is a good place to start and grow a business. The video will also introduce WCC Small Business Director Lori Brintle-Jarvis and the services she provides.
Zach Barricklow, vice president of strategy for WCC, said key objectives of Startup Northwest NC are attracting and retaining entrepreneurs and making the website a place where they can find the resources, connections, support and everything else they need.
He said the Startup Northwest NC website will pull from websites of the Wilkes Economic Development Corp., Wilkes Chamber of Commerce and others and have a search engine to help entrepreneurs find such things as sources of capital and training.
It will have lists of relevant events and activities and provide the ability to schedule appointments with the WCC Small Business Center and connect with Wilkes County Next Generation Entrepreneurs (WilCoNGE).
“We’ll also be investing pretty heavily into promoting this to entrepreneurs” through radio, print, newsletters, social media and search engine optimization, he said. “We don’t want to just wait for them to find it.”
He said there are plans to allow user-generated content so entrepreneurs can tell others what they’re working on and seek support from one another.
All of Startup Northwest NC’s $50,000 budget will be paid to Supportedly, with a substantial portion for making the videos. Cox said Supportedly will own the videos but financial contributors can use them as they wish.
He said efforts are underway to secure a deduction in ongoing fees paid to Supportedly, plus more donations are being sought to fund this. Hopefully, said Cox, the cost can be reduced to at least $25,000 annually.
“Frankly we’ll see what it’s worth to us—if we’re really getting some momentum with it. It will be a year-to-year decision whether we keep funding it.”
He said presidents of the participating community colleges need to see metrics from Supportedly showing if the investment is drawing enough attention to their counties to justify continued funding.
He said Supportedly is working with five other North Carolina community colleges on similar websites to be launched in January.
“The long-term goal as we get more community colleges involved is to have the state pick up this expense. That would scale down the costs per college,” said Cox.