NORFOLK — Area entrepreneurs will soon have access to three new programs aimed at helping them develop and improve their business models while raising capital.
The new programs — StartWheel.org, 757 Accelerate and 757 Seed Fund — will be the centerpiece of a free 757 LAUNCH event slated to be held at Selden Market on March 30. Virginia Senator Mark Warner will attend the event as the keynote speaker.
StartWheel is an online directory that holds resources for entrepreneurs. 757 LAUNCH Lead Organizer and Startwheel’s executive director, Chris Shelton, shared that StartWheel will provide regional support to the “entrepreneurial ecosystem at large” by organizing information on one site and letting community members suggest resources and become sponsors.
“StartWheel’s goal is to make it easier for startups to connect,” Shelton said. “There are many reasons to start and grow a business in Hampton Roads, and we want to ensure that the story is told and that entrepreneurs are given all the resources they need to succeed.”
Shelton, who grew up in Smithfield and is an undergraduate from Old Dominion University, spent two and half years as managing director to build up and launch the ODU Innovations Center before becoming the advocate and leader for StartWheel. The experience Shelton also gained from running Cure Coffeehouse for seven years was key to his preparation for both of these leadership roles.
“If I had never done that, I would never have been poised to take on the ODU Innovation Center,” Shelton said.
757 LAUNCH is also unveiling Hampton Road’s first accelerator program and seed fund, which were both made possible by a recent grant. 757 Accelerate and 757 Seed Fund will offer assistance to help promising entrepreneurs in the region.
“757 Accelerate is excited to offer a select group of startup founders access to experienced mentors, seasoned investors, and the critical resources necessary to grow their companies,” said Executive Director Evans McMillion. “We are looking forward to welcoming our first cohort of companies in the fall of this year.”
757 Seed Fund will invest funds into select companies with financial support from the GO Virginia grant and matching funds from 757 Accelerate. The capital will assist in covering operational costs for entrepreneurs in their earliest stages of development and growth.
The program will be assisted by 757 Angels, which is an established network of businesses and investors who provide capital, mentorship and advice to some businesses.
“757 Seed Fund and 757 Angels will inject catalytic capital into selected opportunities,” said 757 Angels Executive Director Monique Adams. “Seed and Angel capital typically cover negative cash flow that can cripple early-stage company growth, commonly referred to as ‘the valley of death.’ 757 Seed in partnership with 757 Angels hope that a small shift in the allocation of capital can make a significant difference by spurring innovation and creating more viable businesses.”
The final round of ODU’s 3rd annual Lion’s Lair Innovation Competition will also take place as part of the 757 LAUNCH event with entrepreneurs pitching their business ideas in social and traditional enterprises.