Entrepreneurs prepare to pitch

Published 12:09 am Saturday, December 1, 2018

The classes are complete and the hard work is just beginning for Suffolk entrepreneurs with just over a month until Suffolk’s Economic Development Community Business Launch hosts its pitch night in January.

The pitch night will feature Suffolk entrepreneurs with new business ideas or already established businesses battling for a minimum of three grants worth up to $15,000, and the night is the culmination of a mandatory seven-week education series.

At the beginning of the educational series, there were 44 people, but only 24 finished the multi-week course.

Email newsletter signup

“We only have a limited number of grants to issue, which is certainly far less than the number of people that participated,” Assistant Director of Economic Development Gregory Byrd said.

Despite the limited number of grants, Byrd is confident that those fighting for grants will still be motivated, whether they win or not.

“Those that are truly entrepreneurs will not give up because they didn’t win,” Byrd said. “They have gained an education they may have otherwise not had, and it was at no financial cost to them.”

While 24 finished the educational series, which qualifies them for the grant, there is still one more hurdle they have to jump before heading to the pitch night.

The entrepreneurs have to submit business plans by Dec. 11, and the plan will go through a qualification review before a business can head to the final event.

Byrd has heard plenty of ideas from those that participated, and he believes that this program is going to bring good, positive growth to the downtown area.

“We have a great opportunity to add impactful growth to our downtown if each of these participants follows through and tries to pursue their vision,” Byrd said.

The business plans that will be submitted will be judged by the same five judges that will be at the pitch night. Alison Anderson, owner of A. Dodson’s, LaTroy Brinkley, owner of Serendipity Hair Salon, Tanya Hill, former owner of Cordially Invited, Wesley King, vice chairman of the Suffolk Economic Development Authority, and Kevin Hughes, director of Economic Development, will be the judges.

These judges will not only look at how good the idea is but if the idea can be successful in Suffolk’s downtown. Those two things don’t always match up.

“At this point, I can’t guess which of their ideas will be successful because they have to make a business plan that makes sense and present it to the judges,” Byrd said. “What is equally important and a major factor is that the business concept has to work in downtown Suffolk.”

The Community Business Launch program has been successful with the number of potential businesses participating, and Byrd believes that Suffolk will look for opportunities to have something similar happen in the future.

Unfortunately, the city of Suffolk cannot win the grant from the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development again. While the city will have to explore other ways to finance a similar program, doing so allows them to loosen the parameters for the grants in the future.

“We are absolutely looking for opportunities to do this going forward. We can’t apply for this grant again, but we can possibly pursue other avenues to find revenue and financial support,” Byrd said.

According to Byrd, the state has to look at all communities the same to keep things fair. The parameters have forced those competing for grants to stay within a specific location that only makes up of a very small piece of downtown.

“Going forward, once we learn our lessons and what we can do better, we may want to do this in a broader part of the city,” Byrd said.

Suffolk’s Economic Development Department wants the public to join as spectators for the pitch night, because they will be the ones patronizing the new businesses.

“If you live around the area, we want you to come and celebrate the potential of new services that you can benefit from in downtown,” Byrd said.

The pitch night will be held from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Jan. 15 at the Suffolk Center for Cultural Arts, 110 W. Finney Ave. Beverages and light refreshments will be served following the pitches.