By Callie Hietala
A leap of faith recently paid off big for three Martinsville and Henry County entrepreneurs.
On Wednesday, August 11, the Martinsville-Henry County Chamber of Commerce, the Chamber’s Partnership for Economic Development (C-PEG), and Patrick & Henry Community College awarded funding to three new graduates from their entrepreneurial mentoring program, Startup MHC.
The three businesses awarded Wednesday were initially part of the 2020 Startup program, which was put on hold due to the Coronavirus pandemic. Eventually, the boot camps were able to resume via Zoom instruction.
Ashleigh Pritchard, owner of CharmCat Creative – which operates out of Uptown’s Studio 107, was awarded $3,329, including $2,729 in cash to purchase equipment and a booth at a New York trade show to expand her business and customer base. Pritchard was also awarded an in-kind gift of six months use of the virtual incubator space at the West Piedmont Business Development Center to virtually meet with clients and discuss commissions, plan, and work on designs.
“I want to say thank you so much for the support,” said Pritchard, who attended the ceremony via Zoom. “I really love the Martinsville community and I look forward to growing my business and becoming an integral part of the art community in the area.”
Carolyn Byrd and her Imagination Lavender Farm were awarded $3,500 to purchase a seed cleaning machine. “This will not only save our hands, but it also will help us harvest our buds, which is the most important part of the lavender,” said Byrd. Byrd’s farm also houses a retail shop housed in a renovated barn on the property.
Kendall Davis was awarded $6,921.46 for his BAG Productions, a video production and social media company. BAG stands for “blessed and gifted.” The award included $5,500 in cash to buy a new camera and editing equipment. Davis was also awarded six months of free space in the West Piedmont Business Development Center.
“I learned a lot from the classes, just about becoming a business owner,” said Davis. He said he lost many commissions during the pandemic and was feeling deflated but being able to come back into the program in 2021 and continue through the process was rejuvenating.
“It means a lot to be able to use this stuff to help our city grow,” Davis said.
All three business will receive in-kind membership with the Chamber of Commerce for one year to help them make connections and continue to grow.
The Startup MHC initiative began in 2015 as Startup Martinsville with the help of a Community Business Launch grant from the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development.
Initial efforts were focused on developing businesses in the Uptown Martinsville area, but the program has since expanded to encompass all of Martinsville and Henry County.
To participate in Startup MHC, hopeful entrepreneurs go through a competitive application process. Successful applicants then participate in an intensive entrepreneurial boot camp—eight weeks long for startups and four weeks for growing companies.
C-PEG partners with Patrick & Henry Community College, Longwood’s Small Business Development Center, Martinsville SCORE, and the Martinsville-Henry County Economic Development Corp. on the boot camps, as well as a host of staff from both the city and county, local entrepreneurs, and business experts.
Before the Wednesday awards added three new businesses to their list of alumni, 231 individuals had graduated from its training program and 32 businesses were awarded more than $191,000 in cash and in-kind donations.
“These businesses have created over $1,151,000 in new capital investment and created 130 new jobs,” said Lisa Watkins, president of the chamber and executive director of C-PEG.
“We’ve had a lot of success stories with this program,” said Sharon Shepherd, the chamber’s deputy director. She mentioned Uptown Martinsville’s Books and Crannies book shop and Cocoa Trail Chocolates as just a few of the initiative’s successes.
“We really could not do this without our sponsors,” Watkins said. Sponsors for this year’s program included the Campbell Family Group, American National Bank, Appalachian Power, and Lawless Welding & Fabrications (also a graduate of the Startup MHC program.)
Martinsville City Council member Danny Turner also attended the ceremony.
“It’s always great to see people who will invest their future in Martinsville and Henry County,” he said.
City Manager Leon Towarnicki, who has been a part of the Startup MHC program since its inception, said in closing, “It is really very encouraging to see so many people in our community take that leap of faith to jump into their own business.”
“There are many success stories,” he added, “and I’m sure there are going to be more right here in this room.”