Building The Best Sandcastle: Meet UpStart Facilitator Sheri McGuire

Sheri McGuireSheri McGuire is the executive director of Longwood Small Business Development Center. She has helped craft the curriculum for Virginia’s Growth Alliances UpStart Entrepreneur Bootcamp and also is a facilitator during group sessions.

Through the SBDC, she provides follow-up mentoring and guidance to students when the bootcamp is completed.


We sat down with Sheri to get her insights on entrepreneurial excellence:

How is UpStart different from other courses designed to help entrepreneurs?

In the past, the course had been taught in the traditional classroom style. The focus was on writing a business plan. There was a textbook and lectures.

I looked at all that with Nick Langlie, and he suggested incorporating the Business Model Canvas, which focuses

on the thought process you need before you get to the structured business plan. With his ingenuity, Nick was able to curate the canvas and other course elements online. It all came together in the first UpStart class piloted last year.

To me, it’s exciting to see people really think about what they want to do with their business and ask, “Does it work?” They are able to test business ideas in real time with real people. During the course, you go out and you try a few things. If it doesn’t work out, you lean or pivot, and develop the confidence to go in a different direction.

With UpStart, you do that before you go through that laborious process of putting everything down on paper in a business plan. I think a business plan has become somewhat of a dated concept. It’s static. If you’re not careful, you can spend a lot of time writing a plan and spend a lot of money going in a direction that wasn’t suited for you or for the market.

What did you love about the pilot session of UpStart?

It’s exciting to see the business ideas develop. A student may enter the class with one idea, but they can take a total turnupstart class for the better, to something that is viable, by going through the Business Model Canvas process to test it out. It was neat to see that happen in the class last year.

Have you been in contact with any of the student’s since UpStart?

Yes. You’re not just left to your own devices when you leave the class. You’ve still got resources there that can help.

Mentoring is really a lot of what we do, to be honest with you. Just brainstorming through issues, ideas.

We are a system of support, because it’s scary. Sometimes you just need to be able to talk through something one-on-one with somebody that can understand or bring additional resources to help with an issue.

If you were a superhero, who would be your arch-nemesis?

I have learned that you need to figure out how to play with everybody, because you can’t avoid the villains. You’ve got to figure out what their motives are and find a way to accomplish what you need despite  them… or with them.   

You’re going to come up against competition that you’re going to want to obliterate. The only way to do that is to make yourself different and make sure that you’re providing something that the customer wants and is different from what your competition is providing. I guess, as a business owner, you may see your biggest villain as your competition. And you are all in this  big sandbox; you just have to figure out how to build a better sandcastle than them.

The Upstart Entrepreneur Bootcamp is free and available to residents in VGA’s region, which includes Amelia, Brunswick, Buckingham, Charlotte, Cumberland, Greensville, Mecklenburg, Nottoway, Lunenburg, and Prince Edward counties, and the City of Emporia. For more information visit

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