A leg up: The CIC helps entrepreneurs get the right start

Local entrepreneurs gain access to mentorships, networking, financing, and general business knowledge resources with the help of the Community Investment Collaboratives, says CIC president Stephen Davis. / Photo: Sanjay Suchak Local entrepreneurs gain access to mentorships, networking, financing, and general business knowledge resources with the help of the Community Investment Collaboratives, says CIC president Stephen Davis. / Photo: Sanjay Suchak

Since 2012, locals wanting to start their own businesses have been turning to the Community Investment Collaborative for support. The CIC runs a training program to help folks develop their business ideas—its 16-week Entrepreneur Workshop has graduated more than 300 people so far. It also offers financing, mentorship, and co-working space. We chatted with Stephen Davis, CIC’s president, about the collaborative’s impact here in Charlottesville.

What kinds of things are covered in the entrepreneur workshop?

Number one is to help someone determine if a business idea, or existing business, is viable. Will it work for them? What are your goals and reasons for starting the business? The second piece is learning the basics of running the business. How do you think about marketing, sales, cash flow, hiring?

Who are the people who take the workshop?

A little over half of them have a business in the idea stage. A little under half have a business that already exists in some variety—some are very part-time, and others are a supplemental source of income. In a few cases they’re already full-time in the business and have gotten as far as they did by sheer hard work. They’re asking, “How do I stabilize this?”

Why is an organization like the CIC needed in Charlottesville?

Our mission is helping under-resourced entrepreneurs. Seventy-five percent of our clients have incomes below the median; two-thirds are women; over half are racial minorities. For each of those groups, they experience barriers beyond the normal ones. Our program is needed to give these groups access to business knowledge, education, and networks—you need to know the right people. We also provide access to capital through microloan funds. We are willing to take much more risk than a bank would.

What does the mentorship program offer to clients?

In general, we look for volunteer mentors who are interested in helping the person more than the business, because part of our work is about developing clients as people and entrepreneurs so they can make decisions as opposed to the mentor primarily giving advice. You take a client where they are, figure out what their goals are, and provide coaching and support.

What are some of the success stories that have come out of CIC?

There are a lot of them. Just opened up in Fifth Street Station is Mochiko Cville, which does Hawaiian food. It started with catering, then a food truck, and now has a small restaurant. He [owner Riki Tanabe] really utilized all the different parts of our program along the way. And High Tor Gear Exchange, which does outdoor gear consignment, we were able to help them with some financing and ongoing support.

Beyond the success of our businesses that come through the program, a big part of what we do is make our community stronger by bringing together people from different neighborhoods, backgrounds, education, and income levels. They all come through working on their dream, so they get to know each other well and make connections.

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