Six businesses receive grants to open or expand |

Hanah Lopes

Six businesses in Danville got a monetary boost last week as the River District Association hosted a celebration ceremony for its Dream Launch grant recipients.

More than $140,000 was awarded to businesses to open or expand their brick-and-mortar businesses in the River District. Another $17,500 was awarded as part of a new funding opportunity, Catalyst grants, which assist businesses in developing new ideas.

Getting access to capital is the hardest part of getting a new business off the ground, said Diana Schwartz, executive director for the River District Association, at the celebration held May 12 at Ma’s Cakes in downtown Danville.

By completing the Dream Launch program, new business owners can have the two-year business experience requirement for lines fo credit waived by two local banks — Movement Bank and American National, she said.

Movement Bank also participated as a judge at the Dream Launch Pitch Competition and chose two business plans to receive $2.5K grants. 

Existing businesses receiving grants to expand included:

• The Brick Running & Tri Store, owner Adam Jones, $25,000

• Urban Fitness, LLC, owner Marvin Ken Jones, $13,200

• The Cosmetic Art Store, owner Sebastian Steele, $25,000

New businesses that will locate in the River District:

• Bliss Hair & Nail Studio, owner Gabriela Blair, $28,000

• Bubble Aquatics & Exotics, owner Ashlyn Tickle, $25,000 (conditional grant award)

• Temptations Gourmet, owner Carnesha Fuller, $24,000 plus a $2,500 grant from  $24K Movement Bank

The three other businesses who pitched will receive support from RDA in a capacity

other than a Dream Launch Grant, including the new Catalyst Grant:

• Uncle Al’s LLC Hotdogs and Ice Cream, owner Allen Plummer, $12,500, Catalyst Grant Award  plus a  $2, 500 grant from Movement Bank.

• Gemz by Jada, owner Jada Jones, $5,000 catalyst grant

• The Wellness and Beauty Center, owner JoAnn Pyles, $5,000 facade improvement grant

Now completing its fourth year, the River District Dream Launch entrepreneurship program includes the first phase, the Dream Launch Bootcamp, which consists of six classes that teach participants a full slate of skills and information that business owners need. The annual Bootcamp is free for anyone to attend. This year, the program began offering an additional seventh class specifically for food and beverage businesses.

Boot camp participants cover topics such as how to write a business plan, estimate costs, branding and marketing, insurance, legal concerns, accounting, management and more, said Schwartz.

“We try to give them a base for everything they need to start,” she said. 

During the second phase of the Dream Launch Program, participants that complete the entire series and wish to open a brick-and-mortar business in the downtown River District area are eligible to pitch for Dream Launch grant funding. In addition, thanks to partnerships and collaboration building, Dream Launch Bootcamp participants are also eligible to elect to pitch for funding in the Danville-Pittsylvania Rev-Up with the Chamber of Commerce.

This year, 91 individuals or businesses registered for the program and 80 participants attended at least one class. Of those, 50 completed all six classes to earn a certificate of completion, and nine business plans were pitched to judges in the Dream Launch Pitch Competition in April.

“We are thrilled with the results of our fourth year of the Dream Launch program” said

Schwartz, “Not only do we have a toolbox of programs and services for every stage of entrepreneurship, but we are breaking down the barrier of access to capital for start-up businesses in our Region. It is through collaboration and partnerships that we can continue to grow our reputation as a great place to start your business.”

Funding for the 2022 RDA Dream Launch program was made possible by the City of Danville, the Dan River Region Entrepreneur Ecosystem (funded by the Danville Regional Foundation), Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development, and a $90,000 grant from the Community Business Launch Program. Additional community partners in the RDA Dream Launch initiative include the Longwood Small Business Development Center (SBDC), The Launch Place, Danville Pittsylvania Chamber of Commerce, American National Bank, Movement Bank, and many volunteer instructors, judges, and mentors throughout the Dan River region that make the program possible.

The Dream Launch program got its start in 2019 with a $45,000 grant from the state, and has grown to $500,000, said Schwartz. The initial grant was to help localities open brick-and-mortar businesses along the Main Street corridor, she said.

“We could not anticipate it would be so successful,” said Schwartz.

In its four years, the program has had 350 participants, with 129 competing all six classes of the boot camp, she said.

Registration for the fifth year of the program opens in the fall.

Start Up Slam

The River District Association is offering a new venue for those wanting to get their business ideas out there.

It’s called Start-Up Slam and it will begin June 28, 6 p.m. at the Lazy Bee Chicken and Waffles, 616 N. Main St.

The cost is $10 at the door and includes soup, roll and a beverage and the limit is 100 people. Fifteen individuals and businesses will have the opportunity to share their idea within three minutes and the audience votes for their favorite. The winner takes home the money from the door, possibly up to $1,000. 

The event will be held once a quarter. 

For more information, contact the River District Association at 434-791-0210.

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