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WNC Business

Local support for scaling growing businesses

Apr 23, 2024 12:18PM ● By Randee Brown

For small businesses in Buncombe or Haywood Counties that are ready to expedite their growth, Venture Asheville offers a variety of options for support.

Venture Asheville’s Executive Director Jeffrey Kaplan said participating businesses can have just about any type of offering, but they do have several things in common. These entrepreneurs are full-time founders operating highly scalable businesses. They must be coachable, tenacious, and very committed, and make it through multiple rounds of screening to be able to participate. These small business owners are those that are thinking about long-term revenue, market availability, and growth potential.

There are three new incubator programs within Venture Asheville that offer support and resources for different types of businesses in different stages of growth:

Insight — Designed for a service-based company, participants are almost exclusively solopreneurs who are members of the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce. Businesses include a recording studio, an authenticity and intuition coach, and a ghostwriter. This program was created with the intention of sharing services with Chamber members, which some said was an overlooked part of the membership that is now fulfilled, and offers a new potential entry point for some small businesses.

Elevate — Offering five components of support including mentorship based on MIT Venture Mentoring Service, participants’ metrics have produced $110,000,000 in annual revenue with an average of $86,000 annual salary, raised $58 million in capital, and created 384 jobs.

In addition to expert mentorship, peer mentorship via monthly luncheons, workshops, and trainings builds an intentional community of like minds. The E13 and Experience portfolios provide metrics showing in what areas entrepreneurs are strong or weak, and help to provide a roadmap for the experiences a founder should have including public speaking, being a thought leader, applying for funding, and volunteering. 

Kaplan said it is also necessary to have a hobby.

“A hobby is so important because most small business owners are so wrapped up in their business, the rates of burnout are very high,” Kaplan said. “You must have multiple facets in your personality to hit the next phase of your business. If you’re always in ‘fight or flight’ mode, you’ll be reactive, not responsive, and that’s not productive.”

Inspire — Launched in February 2024, this program is designed to bring luminaries to the table and sustain excellence in the area’s growing businesses. Participants are primarily entrepreneurs who are beyond the initial growth curve of their business and seek further collaboration, peer mentorship, metrics tracking, and other support.

Run by Venture’s partners at Hatch Innovation Hub to complement the incubator programs, Pressure Tests serve small businesses looking to elevate their initial growth curve. While the Elevate program typically spans two years, Pressure Tests are a 30 to 90 day critical experiment working on one specific need.

“If Elevate is a road trip, when you get a flat tire, Pressure Tests fix that tire,” Kaplan said. “Elevate looks at milestones over a months-long period; less about a specific industry and more about milestones. Pressure Tests pair small business owners to a mentor with specific knowledge to tackle a specific challenge.”

Venture Asheville also hosts an annual Entrepreneurship Summit with a different topic each year, responding to what data says the market needs at the time. The goal is to inspire people with the right mindset to perform entrepreneurial work in any context and in any aspect.

Many Venture Asheville participants acquire the help of investors to boost their growth; some investors are seeking small business partners, and others are approached as a potential match for a specific business. Kaplan said the Venture Asheville team knows what investors like to see, and they do their best matchmaking possible.

“Capital is hard earned, and easily lost,” Kaplan said. “These partnerships require a ton of trust for both the entrepreneur and the investor, and this happens through deep relationships on a personal and professional level.”

While Venture Asheville programs are selective of their participants, Kaplan said any small business owner looking to grow and scale can always reach out to the Venture team. Even if these programs cannot help your business directly, leaders at Venture Asheville and Hatch Innovation Hub are happy to talk and connect where it is possible. New programs can always be created in the future, so it is helpful to know what the small business community has.

For example, Kaplan said Venture Asheville is working with partners to add a new program to its suite of offerings focused on those with long-term, ambitious startups that have a significant focus on education and venture development.

“Don’t be shy; tell people about what you’re doing,” Kaplan said. “What’s unique about the Asheville community is people genuinely want to help. The whole ecosystem is strong because there is so much collaboration, and there’s no shortage of talented, smart, interesting people. The ethos here is that there is such an appreciation for creative, hard working people, and that nurtures and supports entrepreneurs who live and breathe that.”