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

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From Doubtful Baker To Confident Businesswoman: UpStart Takes Maria’s Sweet Creations To The Next Level

From Doubtful Baker To Confident Businesswoman: UpStart Takes Maria’s Sweet Creations To The Next Level

Six months ago, former first-grade teacher and baking enthusiast Maria Hamilton wasn’t sure she wanted to be in business. Several years before, she’d left Cumberland Elementary School when she had her first child. Maria went from taking cupcakes to her children’s classrooms to baking wedding cakes. Soon, as friends started asking her to bake sweets for them, Maria’s hobby began supplementing her family’s income. She created a Facebook page and before long she had big clients, like Centra Southside Community Hospital, that used her for special events.

But, she wasn’t sure she could pull off owning her own business. “I was asking myself, ‘Am I really going to do this or should I go back to teaching?’” she says. “I wondered if I could run my own business.”

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Free social media marketing workshops start in May

Free social media marketing workshops start in May

Newly revamped, powerful marketing workshop series!

Each workshop will focus on a different social media topic AND a different marketing concept.

These workshops are sponsored by Virginia's Growth Alliance for businesses in our member communities (counties of Amelia, Brunswick, Buckingham, Charlotte, Cumberland, Greensville, Mecklenburg, Nottoway, Lunenburg, & Prince Edward, and the City of Emporia).

One outstanding participant AND their VGA member community will win $750 in free design services - that's $1500 total!

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Free Seminar Planned for Downtown Business Owners

Free Seminar Planned for Downtown Business Owners

A nationally recognized expert in the retail and restaurant industries with a specialization in small towns is coming to region to meet with business owners. Marc Willson is bringing his The Small Town and Merchant Program (STAMP) to Chase City, Clarksville, Lawrenceville and South Hill.
Willson, a National Retail Consultant with 40 years of retail experience, has helped more than 1000 retailers, restaurants, artists and tourism-related small businesses in more than 300 towns. Willson works with Longwood University and their Small Business Development Centers to host seminars for business owners and restaurateurs. The Virginia Small Business Development Centers and Willson’s STAMP recently won the Virginia Downtown Development Association’s 2013 Award of Excellence for Organizational Development. According to Jody Keenan, state director of the Virginia SBDC, STAMP has been beneficial for the retailers and restaurateurs who have participated increasing their revenues by as much as 65 percent.

“It is Willson’s use of low-to-no cost options that we find appealing, specifically his focus on developing and expanding the electronic footprint,” said Jeff Reed, executive director of Virginia’s Growth Alliance. “We have found that fewer than 20 percent of all businesses, organizations and attractions within the VGA region have an electronic presence that they manage and maintain. This hurts us in our efforts to attract new business and industry as well as visitors.”
Willson has kept in touch with the changing marketplace. “Because of the Internet and the pass of the control to the consumer, a small business owner has become the brand. It’s all about the personal connection and treating your customers like VIPs, learning their names and looking out for product you know they would like.”

Willson added, “This is my battle cry for small businesses, get found and be open. You have to be consistent with your hours and you have to be open when people are there to spend money.”

Willson began his retail career in 1975 as co-owner of the largest distributor of Earth Shoes in the United States. He later joined Britches of Georgetown as a salesperson and finished his 12-year career there as Vice President of Operations after growing the company from nine stores to 109. Willson then joined Circuit City and opened 83 mall-based Circuit City Express stores. He later joined Crown Books and managed 250 bookstores as Vice President and General Manager. Next he became the President and CEO of the Bicycle Exchange, a chain of bicycle superstores in dire need of a turnaround.
Registration is required to attend. You can use this link to secure your place The final day to register is Friday, March 13, 2015. The workshops are being conducted March 18-20. Learn more at The sessions are being sponsored by Virginia’s Growth Alliance, Longwood University SBDC, Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development and Virginia Tourism.

The program covers topics such as “Competing with the Big Boys”, “Window Signs and Visual Displays: Stewards of Your Brand,” and “Restaurateurs – The Experience is Twice as Important as the Food.”

Virginia’s Growth Alliance is a regional economic development marketing organization serving the city of Emporia, as well as Amelia, Brunswick, Buckingham, Charlotte, Cumberland, Greensville, Lunenburg, Mecklenburg, Nottoway and Prince Edward counties.

•    What’s different about running an independently owned business?
•    How do I define my customer and make sure I meet their needs?
•    My customers have changed… how do I deal with that?
•    How can I understand all the numbers?
•    How do I deal with lenders, vendors and landlords?
•    What do I need to remember when merchandising my store?
•    How do I get my financials done let alone understand them?
•    What are the “Top 10” customer tips?
•    How can I keep my customers coming back?
•    What do I need to do to market and promote my business on a limited budget?
•    How should I use online marketing and social networking?

And more…


Think Bigger - Business Empowerment Initiative


The VGA is launching a business empowerment initiative we like to call, Think Bigger. The initiative combines a series of bootcamp-style entrepreneurial training courses with social media marketing workshops, and is designed to promote entrepreneurial thinking by providing a wealth of business and marketing resources and training to local entrepreneurs and existing small businesseses.

UpStart, (entrepreneurial training), is offered in partnership with the Longwood Small Business Development Center and Longwood University. With both face-to-face and online components, the series will be designed for students to be able to learn most of the subject matter interactively and online, prior to class time, so that the face-to-face and live experiences will focus on hands-on application with real world experts.

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Virginia Main Street Summer Toolkit

Virginia Main Street Summer ToolkitEntrepreneurship and Downtown: Supporting and fostering local entrepreneurs

July 16-17, 2014

Charley’s Waterfront Café
201 Mill Street
Farmville, Virginia

At the core of any downtown revitalization effort is understanding the need for unique and local shopping and dining opportunities, which are owned by local entrepreneurs. Often times, these business owners and potential business owners need encouragement, support and assistance to make their dreams a reality.

Virginia Main StreetHow can Main Street organizations really support these entrepreneurs and small businesses? Entrepreneurship and Downtown: Supporting and fostering local entrepreneurs, the 2014 Virginia Main Street Toolkit, is designed to help communities focus the Main Street Four Point Approach ® on exactly that question.

Join the state’s engaged network of downtown revitalization professionals and volunteers for this fast-paced, interactive event.

A full conference overview is available here. To register, visit


Support small businesses to help our region grow

shop localWe hear "shop at home" often, but this Thanksgiving I'd like to ask you to really think about what that means to our region. When you shop local, your support of local businesses will come back around to help the region (and you!) by contributing jobs, sales taxes, and business property taxes. All of these help us have better schools, parks, and infrastructure. And don't forget that the people who work in those businesses will then be more able to spend their own money in our regional economy.

A couple items of interest are:

  • Small Business Saturday is a day dedicated to supporting small businesses across the country. Founded by American Express in 2010, this day is celebrated every year on the Saturday after Thanksgiving (this year it's November 30). This one small day has grown into a movement that millions of individuals, businesses, and communities have embraced nationwide—and continue to support each and every day. Learn more about the "Shop Small" movement at
  • The 3/50 Project - - was founded to help save the brick and mortar businesses our country is built on. The 3/50 Project asks you to think about "what 3 independently owned businesses would you miss if they disappeared?" Further, "if half the employed population spent $50 each month in locally owned independent businesses, it would generate more than $42.6 billion in revenues."

According to the 3/50 Project, for every $100 spent in locally-owned businesses, $68 returns to the community through taxes, payroll, and other expenditures.

It's often easy to take our local businesses for granted, but this holiday season let's make an extra effort to support them. While we're at it, let's also try to buy "Made in Virginia" and "Made in America" if possible.

We all know how much retailers depend upon the holiday season to put their businesses in the black for the year, but consider that your holiday shopping can help make the difference in whether a local business is able to stay afloat. That's powerful.

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