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So You Think you Have a Business Idea: Co.Starters RVA (pt. 2)

The original idea behind what is now Co.Starters was to test drive different program formats for early-stage entrepreneurs in Richmond, VA. My co-founder Larkin Garbee and I came across a lot of founders who had an idea for a venture but no clue whether it could turn into a profitable business. We would spend hours mentoring individuals that had never heard of a value proposition or even considered whether they would break even (let alone make a profit). In collaboration with what was then called Unreasonable Institute — now known as Uncharted — we launched Unreasonable Lab Virginia: A one-week intensive program for social entrepreneurs (founders who want to create social change not necessarily through nonprofits or government but by running a socially and environmentally conscious business. Read more about social entrepreneurship here). We focused on social entrepreneurs because that’s where my true passion lies. I don’t get excited about developing the next Instagram filter to make millions (is that even a still thing?), but present me with an idea that solves a real problem for marginalized communities and I’m all in (read more here)!

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“How many cups of coffee do you need to sell per day to break even?” AJay of Brewer’s Cafe at Co.Starters RVA
  • Moved 99% of communication and scheduling needs to an online platform,
  • Offered weekly one-on-one office hours with facilitators, and
  • Added a full time co-working membership for each participating team.
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Tuesday night, 8.00 p.m.: What are your customer’s pain points?

The Co.Starters Approach

I don’t normally sing our own praises but here’s where I think we hit the nail on the head:

  • Guest speakers. For each session we bring in a local entrepreneur or subject matter experts (think attorney, bookkeeper, etc.) who can share some insight from the real world of launching and running a business. I am proud of the group of guest speakers we could win for this round as they represented different backgrounds, industries and business stages.
  • Speed mentoring. The last night of the program is typically dedicated to a celebration night. Thanks to Larkin, we took a different approach and organized a speed-mentoring session with entrepreneurs, spring Alumni and mentors from our community. It was an incredibly powerful experience, not only for the entrepreneurs who said afterward that “I was able to answer all questions, everyone had a great idea on how I can move forward. I feel ready to go now!” and “Entrepreneurs who I had never met took me seriously. I suddenly feel like this can actually work and be a legitimate business!”. Even mentors reached out after the event with comments like “So much fun! Thank you so much for inviting me! And thank you for all that you do!” and “It was sooo much fun. Thanks for the invite!” Full credit to Larkin for pulling this event together and rallying so many inspiring entrepreneurs.
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Graduation night with local mentors and advisors.

Co.Starters in 2018?!

As we look toward the next year of programming for early-stage ideas that need validation, a few items need to be addressed:

  1. (Wo)Man power. I feel as though we have been asking a lot of our facilitators. In an effort to continuously adapt and improve the program, I would love nothing more than to expand our pool of facilitators to more evenly distribute the workload and experiment with different facilitation styles.
  2. Thirdly — and this one is of a more personal nature — we have definitely moved away from working with social entrepreneurs. What our ecosystem needs is programming for early-stage founders. Lots of it. I am confident we could fill three cohorts per year and cater to these very early validation needs. But MY passion lies in working with founders who want to create lasting social change, and that’s a much smaller niche than what our ecosystem needs at this stage.

Written by

Ecosystem builder for social change. Founder at www.socialventurers.com Meet me over at www.anikahorn.com for all things social enterprise!

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