UVA Wise is Open for Business

Blake Salyer
Photo by Mark Robertson-Baker II

Do you have an idea for a business or want to expand an existing one? UVA Wise is offering a new program to help.

The CO.STARTERS Core program, powered by the Hatch Business Accelerator, is a 10-week cohort that equips aspiring entrepreneurs with the insights, relationships and tools needed to turn ideas into action, and turn a passion into a sustainable and thriving endeavor. It’s a globally-recognized program started in 2008 in Chattanooga, Tenn., as part of its five-year Main Street revitalization effort.

Blake Salyer, UVA Wise’s newly minted Ecosystem & Innovation Manager, said he and his colleagues selected the program because it was a good fit for smaller towns and rural communities.

The program has had great success. Ninety-seven percent of the businesses launched out of CO.STARTERS survive the first-year mark and it has a 92 percent successful launch rate. To date, more than 21,000 businesses launched using the program, Salyer said.

It’s open to anyone in Southwest Virginia ready to transform their idea into a thriving business, Salyer said.

“We wanted to have a program that would meet entrepreneurs where they are. This program supports entrepreneurs of all types but specifically those who have the idea but haven’t taken the leap. It meets their needs to get them started,” Salyer said.

Participants can be business owners wanting to pivot to a new service,  pursue a different opportunity, or someone with a new idea that has never started a business.

UVA Wise hopes the program will create new businesses and ventures to help revitalize the region’s downtowns and main streets.

“Many of the businesses that will come out of this program will add character, charm and personality to the cities and towns they locate to,” Salyer said.

At the end of the program, participants will also learn about new funding opportunities and location incentive programs.

Themes for the sessions include knowing yourself, knowing your customer, finding the right solution, getting the relationship right, building blocks, structures and systems, discovering the bottom line, financial modeling and planning for growth.

“We want to support starters through the idea stage and early phases of their business, providing them the guidance to give them the confidence to succeed,” Salyer said.

Participants must apply by August 5, and the cost is $150. Certain communities may partner to offer scholarships to participants from their area. Current UVA Wise students who are members of UVA Wise’s NEST, the College’s entrepreneurship club, are eligible for a scholarship to cover the registration fee, too.

The cohort begins August 18, 2022 with sessions held on Thursdays at 6 p.m. Sessions one and 10 will be held in person at UVA Wise’s Oxbow Center in St. Paul. The majority of the sessions—two through nine—will be held virtually via Zoom.

Salyer will serve as one of the co-facilitators along with other partners including GO Virginia Region 1 and Opportunity SWVA. UVA Wise Assistant Professor of Entrepreneurship and Innovation Shankar Naskar will serve as a mentor for the program in providing input as participants evolve their ideas into opportunities.

Sessions will have additional guest speakers including a wide variety of subject matter experts and entrepreneurs to share experiences and give advice on topics regarding starting a business, Salyer said.

In May, Salyer became the College’s first ecosystem and innovation manager.

“The mission of my job is to empower the entrepreneur ecosystem,” he said. “It’s exciting to share the vision behind this entrepreneurship and innovation initiative with partners across the region. I’m trying to connect as many dots out there as possible.”

Part of the new role is working to connect and create a network of early-stage or first-time entrepreneurs in the region. Some of that work is bringing together small businesses to existing resources like co-working spaces, investment opportunities and supporting organizations.

For the past year, Salyer served as the entrepreneur coordinator for the NEST, a UVA Wise off-campus co-working space and entrepreneurship community where students, community leaders, business owners and faculty come together to shape business start-up ideas. There, he developed campus programming to support and mentor students in entrepreneurship.

A 2015 graduate of UVA Wise, Salyer holds a business administration degree and is a veteran entrepreneur himself.  While in college, Salyer started his first solo venture, an Apple-device mobile repair shop. He’s gone on to create a creative services business, and an e-commerce merchandise brand, Winze Co., which produces Southwest Virginia-inspired mountain lifestyle apparel.

His most recent venture has been launching Lincoln Road Coffee Lounge in Norton with his partners. Lincoln Road Coffee was founded by Ryan Jones as a mobile coffee business serving up authentic nitro cold brew and has since grown into a multi-location coffee and tea retail and wholesale experience in Eastern Kentucky and Southwest Virginia.

Salyer said one of the best benefits of the new program is the support of peers participating together as well as mentorship from a community of experienced and new business founders.

“They will be so many people cheering you on as you create and build your new business,” Salyer said.

For more information, check out https://www.hatchaccelerator.com.