The Advancement Foundation supports fledgling enterprises with Gauntlet competition

Vinton Messenger: The Gauntlet

By Debbie Adams

VINTON–Anyone depressed by the state of the world in recent months would have benefitted from spending the day at The Advancement Foundation “Gauntlet” competition on January 17.

Twelve entrepreneurs exuberantly shared their visions of businesses or non-profit organizations they would like to start-up or have already launched which will not only benefit them, but their community.

The Advancement Foundation (TAF) is a non-profit organization founded by Annette Patterson in 2007 and housed in offices in the Charity Cottage Thrift Store on Pollard Street in Vinton. Patterson subscribes to the “teach a man to fish” and “we’re all in this together” philosophies of making positive change in the world. The organization’s plan is for individuals and communities to advance by “locking arms” and moving forward together, each one leveraging their own trengths for the benefit of all.

The Gauntlet project is part of their Business and Social Enterprise Development Program. Patterson and her AmeriCorps assistants developed the Gauntlet with the idea of teaming fledgling entrepreneurs who have  a vision with advisors and business experts from the community who could mentor them and help them develop the skills necessary to bring their dreams to fruition.

Individuals interested in enrolling in the program were invited to submit an application with details about their proposed enterprises, including basic business plan information such as a target market, assets, products or services to be offered,  a proposed location, and the training and background they possess to help them be successful.

Participants were asked to develop a presentation for the Gauntlet competition on Jan. 17. They were teamed with mentors and advisors with many opportunities for rehearsing and refining their presentations over the intervening months.

The presentations were divided into two sessions at the Co-Lab in Grandin Village with businesses featured in the morning and community projects in the afternoon. Each individual was given 15 minutes to sell their product or service, followed by questions from three judges and  the audience.

The Gauntlet competition was held on Jan. 17 at the Co-Lab in Grandin Village, organized by The Advancement Foundation (TAF). Six entrepreneurs competed in the morning session sharing their business proposals. Shown in the front row are TAF founder and president Annette Patterson, entrepreneur Khalid Jones, competition judge Allison Bubar, and entrepreneurs Karin Shelor and Habibah Yasin. In the back row are entrepreneur David Williams, judges Beth Doughty and Sandra Pratt, entrepreneur Stephen Johnson, and emcee Becky Fremal of Fox 21/27.

Khalid Jones was first up for the business presentations. His proposal was for a Barber Academy focused on teaching a trade to at risk youth, adults who had been incarcerated, and veterans making a transition in careers.

Stephen Johnson, with a life-long interest in and experience with aquariums and the African Cichlid, described his dream for installing and maintaining aquariums to customer specifications in offices throughout the region, especially in medical practices where the waits can sometimes be long and boring. He has developed his plan and his list of potential customers. He needs funding to get up and running.

David Williams of Vinton pitched the idea of an expanded Elite Level Hoops for students in grades six through twelve, which combines athletic instruction along with academic supervision of  potential college athletes—building confidence, character, and basketball skills in the same program. He needs funds to rent gym space for the program.

Karin Shelor who works at Charity Cottage Thrift Store developed her KBAY proposal for selling items donated to the non-profit on eBay. She and the charity would split the profits 40-60, benefitting both.

Becca Parrish would like to expand her “Organize it Roanoke” business (companies less than two years old and with less than $250,000 in profits were also invited to participate in the Gauntlet). She works in both residential and commercial settings to organize living and working space. She assists the elderly who are downsizing or moving to assisted living, and those involved in the real estate market, whether as buyer, seller, or realtor, and even hoarders.

Habibah Yasin proposed a plan for cosmetology instruction through her Black Diamond School of Beauty. She would like to help others raise themselves up and become professionals. Funding would help her school to achieve accreditation.

After the morning presentations, the three judges—Allison Bubar Director of Strategy and Integration for Advance Auto, Sandra Pratt the Director of Community Development at Wheeler Broadcasting, and Beth Doughty, Executive Director of the Roanoke Regional Partnership—deliberated and came up with awards to match the needs of the blossoming entrepreneurs.

A cash prize of $1000 was awarded to Jones to further his barber academy plans,with five hundred dollars to Yasin for her cosmetology school. Johnson received a three-month sales course to help him develop a business plan and clientele for his “Aquascapes 10.”

Williams was also awarded a business course. Shelor received a laptop computer; Parrish, a business-oriented retreat at Smith Mountain Lake.

During the afternoon session of the Gauntlet competition, community advocates made their presentations. Shown in the front row are: competitor Shannon Williams with two of her students, Roma Brothers, Megan Dillon, and Keisha Graziadei-Shup. Standing in the back row are TAF founder Annette Patterson, competitor Shawn Spencer, emcee Becky Fremal, competitor Dorothy Owsley, and judges Dave Prosser, Caroline Stanfill, and Sarah Beth Jones.

The afternoon session kicked off at 1:30 featuring non-profit organizations seeking funding. Judges for the afternoon session were Caroline Stanfill, Regional Coordinator for the Richmond Diocese, Dave Prosser, Senior Vice President for Community Development at Freedom First, and Sarah Beth Jones, owner of NoBS Biz Coaching.

Keisha Graziadei-Shup asked for assistance with her “LaConexion” website with plans to make local news and information more accessible to the region’s rapidly growing Hispanic population who have not yet developed English language skills sufficient to flourish in the community. At the end of the day, she received the $500 prize and a Chamber of Commerce membership.

Dorothy Owsley runs the “Transitional Options 4 Women” which assists women on probation or on parole to navigate back into society. Owsley received membership in the Chamber of Commerce and grant writing services to help her located funding for her facility. She best summed up the spirit of the day and of the Gauntlet event with,  “It does not take one; it takes everyone” to change the community and the world.

Roma Brothers has created “Shop4U” to assist anyone who has difficulty due to time, physical, or other constraints to shop for themselves. She received six months of office space with waived rental fees.

Shannon Williams gave a dynamic presentation on “Looks and Books” which serves girls ages 5-12 at the Lansdowne Center in an afterschool program. Her vision was awarded the $1000 prize for “keeping dreams alive.” She also received services to help her develop a website.

Shawn Spencer asked for help with another afterschool program for girls, Project Real Talk located at the Villages at Lincoln Community, which mentors students through a “communiversity.” She received a two day business retreat at Smith Mountain Lake to develop a strategic plan for her program.

Megan Dillon gave an impassioned and eloquent plea for her “Mountain to Shore Clean-up” project, a year round program to save the environment. The judges awarded her six months of office space in the Co-Lab and a laptop computer.

TAF founder and president Annette Patterson credited her staff made up of AmeriCorps volunteers with organizing the Gauntlet event. TAF offices are located in the Charity Cottage Thrift Store in downtown Vinton. Shown are: Michael Hudson, an AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer, TAF Director of Civic Engagement Samantha Lukasiewicz, TAF Vice President Judy Wood, TAF president and founder Annette Patterson, DeboraLee Davis from AmeriCorps State, Karen D'Angelo an AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer, and Marcia Major from AmeriCorps State.

The Vinton Area Chamber of Commerce helped to sponsor the Gauntlet competition. Todd Creasy, President of the Chamber, and a CPA with Neely’s Accounting, agreed to assist budding entrepreneurs with financial questions.

In past years TAF has partnered with the Town of Vinton and Rowe Furniture in using the upper floor of the Health Department building on Pollard Street for training classes in industrial sewing. Assistant Town Manager Ryan Spitzer has recently consulted with TAF on the possible use of the space again for incubator businesses identified by the Gauntlet process with the in-kind donation of rent-free office space if the town’s budget allows. Little cost would be involved for the town other than a few cosmetic upgrades.

TAF received support from many businesses and organizations. Patterson said that no one turned her down when asked to sponsor the event.

The next Gauntlet competition is scheduled for October 2015. Patterson hopes for more sponsorships and donations to be able to present more and bigger awards. Information is available atwww.TheAdvancementFoundation.org.

Samantha Lukasiewicz

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