5 Lessons in Entrepreneurship From Small-Town Startup Experience

By Martin Zwilling, Founder and CEO, Startup Professionals

Opportunities abound for entrepreneurs in small towns as well as big-city entrepreneur hubs.

From the advice I hear these days, if you want to be a successful entrepreneur, you need to be in Silicon Valley, Boston, New York, or one of the few other financial hubs around the world.

What does that mean for the rest of us, who reside or grew up in the thousands of small towns that cover most of the landscape? Is entrepreneurship ever viable or recommended in a small town?

I was pleased to see these questions addressed in a new book, Small Town Big Money, by Colby Williams, focused on entrepreneurship and opportunity in today's small towns. Colby is a living example of a successful small-town entrepreneur, starting with his Parengo Coffee Shop in Sikeston, Missouri.

He offers some practical entrepreneurship lessons I most often hear in reference to Silicon Valley:

1. You need a good business plan to start.

As an adviser to aspiring entrepreneurs, I'm surprised at how many people believe that business plans are only required to appease big investors.

In reality, a written business plan has real value for every entrepreneur, since most people can't create and retain a complete plan in their head.

For credibility, especially in a small town, you need to quantify your plan consistently to local leaders and organizations, as well as bankers and customers. Sizing the market, projecting revenue, and calculating breakeven points are critical, even for a coffee shop.

2. Don't get too comfortable -- take comfort in fear.

Don't expect any entrepreneurship venture to be comfortable. There are too many unknowns, whether you're building a coffee shop or producing electric cars.

If you are looking for comfort, stick to that 9-to-5 job. Being an entrepreneur anywhere without fear likely means your business is at risk.

For example, in a small town with no other hardware store, you may be lulled into complacency as customers flock into your hardware store at any price, but soon a competitor will pounce. Work to build memorable customer experiences today, or the store may be empty tomorrow.

3. It takes collaboration to build a business.

No matter how hard you are willing to work inside the business, you still need external relationships with suppliers, people in your business network, and your community.

In small towns, this may mean sponsoring local events, supporting complementary businesses, and community involvement.

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In any business, collaboration is really your ability to move people from customers to fans to friends. This is often more important than your product or service, and it requires letting the "real you" show, really listening and responding. All businesses require collaboration.

4. Brands are all about a story and selling an experience.

More than a product or service, you are founding a brand when you start a venture, large or small.

You are selling an experience. In today's world of social media and the internet, people want to know who you are and what makes you outstanding in your field, and to relate to your vision.

We all know the fate of too many a small-town restaurant, started by someone who loves to cook and expects the food to do the talking. Every ad, every review, or lack of one, tells a story about how much you care and what customer experience one might expect.

5. Don't forget to stay a step ahead of the market.

Businesses that never change are now forgotten. I still remember when every small town I knew had a Sears store and a JCPenney.

Even if your town never seems to change, there are always changes in trends, people, and technology. Entrepreneurs not innovating are actually losing ground.

High-tech ventures in Silicon Valley know they have to constantly innovate, but small-town coffee shops can easily forget. Yet the best are always offering new flavors, new specials, new decors, and ways to reach new customers. People flock to the new.

I came away from this book with two takeaways for every entrepreneur: 1) The opportunities are more abundant in a million small towns than in a few sacred hubs like Silicon Valley; and 2) the ingredients for success in a small town are the same as anywhere else, but with a healthy dose of localized flavor.

So for those of you want to be entrepreneurs but don't relish the thought of leaving the community that you know and love, now is the time to get started. Small things can easily grow to be the empire and legacy you always dreamed about.

PUBLISHED ON: JAN 7, 2019

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.

Talent Jam - Work it Watauga Recap

Talent Jam - Work it Watauga made its’ first debut on Thursday, April 4, 2019 at Ransom in downtown Boone. With approximately 175 attendees and 27 official pitchers the event was a huge success! The event was informative, engaging, fast paced and really fun for attendees.

Talent Jam - Work It Watauga was presented by Silicon Hollar, in partnership with Appalachian State University - Career Development CenterBoone Chamber of CommerceBlowing Rock Chamber of CommerceThe Watauga County Economic Development Commission and NC IDEA Foundation.
Special thanks to our wonderful beer sponsors, Booneshine Brewing Co. & Lost Province Brewing Co. as well as our awesome host, Ransom!

Talent Jam - Work it Watauga authentically connects our local talent and the organizations that need them in ways that traditional networking events or job fairs simply don’t. This was a high-energy, hyperlocal event that featured dueling, open-mic pitches where companies looking for talent, and people that have talent, each deliver alternating 60-second pitches. The event was followed by a casual but impactful networking reception where many connections were made!

A local Photovoice project brought to you by AppHealthCare highlighting the importance of inclusion, specifically employing individuals abilities was also on display at Talent Jam - Work it Watauga.

Stay tuned for more information about the next Talent Jam - Work it Watauga coming this fall!

If you have questions, you can contact Geralyn Mitchell at Appalachian State University Career Development Center at mitchellgb@appstate.edu.

See photos below from Talent Jam - Work it Watauga

Talent Jam - Work it Watauga THIS THURSDAY!

Talent Jam is coming to Watauga County!

A high-energy, hyperlocal event that features dueling, open-mic 60-sec pitches for companies looking for talent and people that have talent.

About this Event

An event that authentically connects our local talent and the organizations that need them in ways that traditional networking events or job fairs simply don’t. This is a high-energy, hyperlocal event that features dueling, open-mic pitches where companies looking for talent, and people that have talent, each deliver alternating 60-second pitches. The event is followed by a casual but impactful networking reception.

View these two sample pitches: Have Talent | Need Talent

Talent Jam - Work It Watauga is presented by Silicon Hollar and is in partnership with Appalachian State University - Career Development CenterBoone Chamber of CommerceBlowing Rock Chamber of CommerceThe Watauga County Economic Development Commission and NC IDEA Foundation.

The location for Talent Jam – Work It Watauga will be at Ransom Pub on April 4th from 5 pm – 7 pm.

Registration is required and pitch opportunities are very limited. Registration for pitches is open online here or first come first serve at the door! General admission is free but you still need to register!

If you have questions, you can contact Geralyn Mitchell at Appalachian State University Career Development Center at mitchellgb@appstate.edu.

Velocity Labs Cohort 2-Spring 2019

Velocity Labs is a 3-month startup accelerator divided into two distinct 6-week tracts for founders and teams of pre-revenue and early adopter stage high-growth companies.  Velocity works closely with a select group of entrepreneurs in the earliest stages with the proven Customer Development framework to discover a valid solution for a problem worth solving for a sizable population that’s big enough to build a scalable, profitable and impactful company.  Customer Development recognizes a startup is a temporary organization built to search for the answers to what makes a repeatable & scalable business model.  Entrepreneurs will test a series of unproven hypothesis (guesses) about their business model:  who the customers are, what the product features should be, and how this scales into a hugely successful company.  The peer-to-peer course will engage insightful discussion among the diverse group of startup entrepreneurs while creating accountability, personal leadership, increased productivity and an accelerated learning platform to give companies the necessary velocity to reach the critical growth and scale stages.

Customer Development

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There are three critical stages for velocity track companies. The Customer Development framework supports the first two foundational stages:

1) problem/solution fit

2) product/market fit

3) scale/growth

The first six-week tract (Spring 2019) is all about Customer Discovery and is for the earliest stage companies, typically pre-revenue, working on product ideation, business model concepts, market analysis and the critical problem/solution fit stage.  Companies will understand deeply what the big problem is they are working to solve and specifically for which customer segment(s). Founders will use the Value Proposition Canvas to help test their own assumptions about the problem and the solution directly with a number of potential customers, explore direct competitors and how their value proposition is unique, and analyze the true size and value of the potential market.  Companies will be able to confidently measure whether they have true problem/solution fit before moving on to Customer Validation in the second six-week tract to prove out product/market fit. The course culminates in a community pitch event to allow founders the opportunity pitch their validated business model concepts and gain support from the High Country startup community.

The second six-week tract (Summer 2019) is for the early stage companies that have validated that they have problem/solution fit and are engaging with a small early adopter customer base.  Using the Customer Validation framework and Business Model Canvas, companies will build and test a minimal viable product (MVP) with a growing number of early adopters as they ramp up into and validate true product/market fit.  Companies will gain a deep understanding of early adopter engagement, sales funnel and channel development, early revenue generation, market positioning and growth metrics that matter. The course culminates in a community pitch event to allow founders the opportunity pitch their early stage company to the community, investors and mentors to gain support from the High Country startup community.

Spring Course: Customer Discovery and finding Problem/Solution Fit

Rolling Applications with Final Deadline March 15th, 2019.

Class Times:   Mondays 6-9pm in downtown Boone (Coursework)

                    Every other Wednesdays 6-9pm in downtown Boone (Leadership)

Class Dates:    April 1 – May 6 2019 (Mondays)

                    April 3, April 17 and May 1, 2019 (Wednesdays)

Summer Course: Customer Validation and finding Product/Market Fit

Rolling Applications with Final Deadline May 17th, 2019

Class Times:   Mondays 6-9pm in downtown Boone (Coursework)

                    Every other Wednesdays 6-9pm in downtown Boone (Leadership)

Class Dates: June 10 – July 15, 2019 (Mondays)

                    June 12th,  June 26th, and July 10th 2019 (Wednesdays)

APPLY HERE

January Startup Social Recap

Last Thursday, we kicked off 2019 at Hatchet Coffee’s new space for the January Silicon Hollar Startup Social! 50+ local entrepreneurs, community members, and business owners gathered at Hatchet to enjoy specialty coffee, local brews and networking. Special thanks to our monthly drink sponsors, Appalachian Mountain Brewery, Booneshine Brewing Co. and Hatchet!

Startup Social attendees enjoyed open networking and many took part in getting a free professional headshot. We would like to thank J. Chew Photography for the awesome set up and providing free head shots for local entrepreneurs at this event!

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Everyone gathered around and James Bance, Co-Founder of Startup High Country opened us up with quick Silicon Hollar updates and by thanking our host and drink sponsors.

Jeremy Bollman, co-founder of Hatchet Coffee took the floor to discuss their new space and the exciting new opportunities instore for the community at their coffee shop. Starting this week, Hatchet will host Pop-up Coworking on Tuesday evenings from 6-8 PM to accommodate local entrepreneurs.

Brandon Hall, co-founder of ChurchLearn discussed their startup business and that they officially launched their friends and family raise opportunity! They have had great traction as a company and with the Friends and Family round. Email brandon@churchlearn.com for more info!

Joe Furman from Watauga EDC mentioned the NC Rural Center Thread Capital Lending opportunity for small businesses. Thread Capital provides small businesses access to the capital, coaching and connections they need. Apply now!

James Wilkes, CEO of Hive Tracks is launching a crowdfunded documentary, Chasing Sourwood. Stay tuned for more info on this awesome business venture! Sullivan Wilkes, James’ son and business partner mentioned his Backyard Beehive endeavor where he provides hive keeping, consulting and sells bees/honey.

Jeffrey Scott, Co-Founder of Startup High Country discussed last year’s Velocity Labs course and that because of grant funding there will be another course coming this spring! Learn more and apply here. Jeffrey is also facilitating an upcoming Mountain Bizworks Invested Course: An Investment Crowdfunding Learning Journey beginning later this week! Learn more and apply here.

Chris Grasinger, another Co-Founder of Startup High Country mentioned Mountain Bizworks Boone Foundations Course coming up in February that will be facilitated by Athalia Whitworth. Learn more and apply here.

Miah Zimmerman, Owner of Canvas Beauty Bar recently launched her new social networking website for the beauty industry, canvassocial.com. Be sure to check it out!

Taylor Drouet with The Dynamic Body is introducing a new class series called Balanced Bodies Bootcamp(B3). The intention of the class is for you to feel more confident and alive in your body. This dynamic high energy series focuses on building core strength, stability, and mobility while training healthy joints and healthy bodies. Taylor also does Massage Therapy and teaches private lessons for Functional Movement. All of these modalities focus on unwinding into freedom, access, and ease so that you can love living in your body. Please call or email Taylor if you have any questions or you want schedule an appointment. 541-510-8487, healingthedynamicbody@gmail.com.

Christina Bailey invited everyone to attend Boone’s Winter Farmers Market every 1st and 3rd Saturday through April. She also mentioned Blue Ridge Women in Agriculture’s upcoming Farm to Table Dinner Series at local restaurants! Christina invites everyone to shop local through the High Country Food Hub as well!

David Jackson, President/CEO of Boone Area Chamber of Commerce added that the High Country Food Hub (recent Velocity Labs graduate) was also just named BAC Startup Business of the Year!

Davis Parker is launching a new mobile app called Draba in March at Black Cat in downtown Boone! Draba is a curated digital marketplace that connects buyers to unique creative goods and services, provided by local sellers.

George Smith, President/CEO of Copper Barrel Distillery would like to personally extend a warm invitation for Silicon Hollar members and friends to participate in Copper Barrel’s Anniversary Celebration on Saturday, April 20, 2019! There are a few vendor spots left, so those who would like to showcase their products at the event should fill out and submit a Vendor Application. This event is a fundraiser for the Fallen Outdoors. Please see a summary of the planned activities below. This year’s event is shaping up to be our biggest and most successful yet! Tickets will be available to purchase on Eventbrite within the next week or so. Please do not hesitate to contact George directly (at 704-269-8697) if you have any questions or need additional information.

Erich Schlenker, Managing Director of the Transportation Insight Center for Entrepreneurship mentioned their upcoming Ideation Workshop on February 21st. More details to come.

Dallas from Great State Brewery and Wired Man Coffee Shop, both located in Wilkesboro invited everyone to make a trip down the mountain to enjoy a coffee or a beer in a great atmosphere!

Thanks again to all those that attended this month’s event! Thank you for always supporting our entrepreneurial efforts here in the High Country. Stay tuned for information regarding our February Startup Social!