Entrepreneurship is alive and well in the northern Shenandoah Valley.
That’s the message local startups are willing to share about their experience with Shenandoah Community Capital Fund’s (SCCF) Startup Shenandoah Valley (S2V) program.
Since the first cohort was announced in December 2020, 13 North Shenandoah Valley startups have participated in the program.
The program, which was initially funded in June 2020 with more than $1 million in GO Virginia grant money, includes one-on-one virtual coaching, tailored mentoring and support in all aspects of running a successful business – such as raising capital, recruiting and retaining top talent , marketing and legal issues, among others. Participants will become part of an alumni network of the Shenandoah Valley’s best companies and a growing entrepreneurial ecosystem.
The most recent cohort, which ended in May, focused on technology-based startups.
Strasburg-based AD Carter, owner and operator of Retail VR, said the program helps focus on the small, nitty-gritty details that actually play a big role in the business process.
“Those little pieces that no one knows about, that’s what keeps you going. Everyone sees only the results; they don’t see what it took to get there. They see from milestone to milestone, but they don’t know the intricacies along the way,” Carter said. “S2V actually made that process of going from milestone to milestone a lot easier.”
Most entrepreneurs in the program usually have a business that is up and running. They are probably looking for further marketing or maybe starting another location.
But the S2V program is not limited to running or thriving businesses. Entrepreneurs at any stage of the process are encouraged to apply.
JD Oldaker, who is still building his business that aims to bring together the worlds of virtual reality and therapy, met with SCCF’s Entrepreneur Ecosystem Builder Ryan Hall at an SCCF-sponsored tech event and pitched him a business idea.
That led Oldaker, who is also an Army veteran and current student at Shenandoah University, to apply for the S2V program.
Oldaker said it’s helpful to have both sides of the business startup spectrum represented in the program.
“Most of the people in the program had a company that was developed and working. So when I see where they are and what they have problems with, it will prepare me for the future,” he said. “Being able to bring up your problem or where you’re at with your company and get feedback from the whole group was great. I think that’s a huge advantage to have nine or more different perspectives on one problem.”
In addition to working toward success, problem solving plays a large role in the program’s efforts.
For example, Oldaker said he realized during the program that his original business name was already taken, so he took it back to the drawing board. Meanwhile, Carter said he learned how to better handle a situation he faced early on where someone he knew replicated his business process and became a direct competitor.
“It will be very fluid in approach. You have to know as a startup that you don’t know everything,” Carter said.
With the latest cohort focusing on technology, both Carter and Oldaker said it was interesting to see each business owner’s ideas and how they plan to implement — or are already implementing — that technology and the process of developing it.
Carter’s Retail VR specializes in 3D business modeling that can be used for marketing, mapping, facilities management, emergency services and more.
Right now, he’s using technology to advertise jobs on Main Streets across Shenandoah County.
Oldaker, meanwhile, is working on using virtual reality to help mental health patients. Currently, he said VR is being used to help PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), anxiety and phobias, but he’s looking more at childhood trauma affecting an adult over time.
Oldaker said seeing everyone’s business helped him see more of the big picture of where he needed to go.
“The most successful companies have two people — the big idea guy and the programmer. I know what areas need to be attractive to be successful, now it’s about figuring out how to create that vision. I need to find a partner to help me get this out into the world,” he said. “All the little details about forms and documents, those are all things you can find guidance on. I’m more concerned with how to market it, how to build it and how to promote it. Those were the things I learned during the program.”
Those associated with startups tend to carry a certain kind of optimism, and members of the S2V program cohort were no different.
The same kind of optimism was evident in the northern Shenandoah Valley, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, Carter and Oldaker agreed.
Not only did that translate into a positive entrepreneurial spirit, but it also kept families afloat, they said.
“In my time, I was a claims controller in Northern Virginia and in the Valley, and I loved working here in the Valley because the people in the Valley are resilient,” Carter said. “They didn’t wait for everyone to do it for them. They pick up the boats and start working. I can definitely say that the Valley is a place where people get things done. I appreciate that, and it gives a strong entrepreneurial nature.”
The S2V program is currently accepting applications for cohort 5, which will run from September 5 to October 27. Business owners who want to grow and expand their market in trade sectors are invited to apply.
“Submit an application. Don’t second guess yourself; just file a report,” Carter said. “Even if you don’t get in, you better try. You’re guaranteed to fail if you do nothing. But you have a 50-50 chance of success if you try.”
For more information, visit sccfva.org/s2v/