Launch Hampton Roads sends 111 into entrepreneurial orbit

By: Pete Humes
Inside Business, Monday, July 4, 2016

launch article photo
COURTESY STORMY HOLT
Launch Hampton Roads alumni Allen and Andrea Fisher used the program to help them start LOVEnorfolk, a “vegetable-forward” catering and pop-up restaurant business.

Launch Hampton Roads celebrated four years of helping local entrepreneurs start their own businesses last Tuesday.

This year marked the last year of available funding for the training program and organizers said it will not continue.

The initiative was designed to help “adult and dislocated workers” who were interested in starting their own business. Launch Hampton Roads was made possible by a partnership between regional workforce development board Opportunity Inc., local business leaders, three schools (Old Dominion University, The College of William and Mary and Tidewater Community College) and the Virginia Employment Through Entrepreneurship Consortium.

The consortium and SkillSource Group were awarded an $8.4 million grant from the U.S. Department of Labor in July 2012. Opportunity Inc. received $1.8 million to offer free entrepreneurship training and technical assistance through the newly formed program.

A comprehensive report distributed during the June 28 gathering showed the program had 474 applicants and helped create 111 businesses. In addition, 131 participants were referred to traditional employment.

Launch Hampton Roads director Stephanie McCombs addressed the data at the event and said goals and expectations were “exceeded in every way.”

Look closely at the outcomes and results and you’ll find plenty of acronyms in the fine print. Each of which corresponds to a local, state or national organization or initiative created to help boost employment and move the economy forward.

Funds come from budget items and grants. Money moves from Point A to Point B and then to Point C. Organization A falls under Organization B which then distributes funds to Organization C.

It can get a bit overwhelming and frankly, hard to follow. And sometimes the constant barrage of official press releases from economic development offices, government officials and corporate communications departments makes it easy to forget that ultimately, business is about people.

But watching some of the 111 “graduates” of Launch Hampton Roads walk across the Big Blue Room at the Ted Constant Convocation Center and ring a symbolic bell made it clear. Start-ups begin with one person and succeed with collaboration.

The group of new businesses ran the gamut from cleaners, accountants and jewelry-makers to franchise owners and vegetarian restaurateurs.

Motivational speaker and author Benita Adams delivered an upbeat keynote speech that reminded entrepreneurs “the distance between dreams and reality … is action.”

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