River District News
Meet the 2020 RDA Dream Launch Grantees
River District Association awards over $70,000 for small business creation and expansion – and helps educate entrepreneurs in the process. By: Diana Schwartz
If you want to find unique stores, local business owners, and a vibe that you just can’t get in a big box store, all you need to do is turn to your historic downtowns to find an eclectic mix of food, goods, and good times to be had by all. But starting those businesses and nurturing them to be successful isn’t as easy as it looks from the outside.
Along with many others in our region, the River District Association (RDA) works hard to create a place downtown where people want to live, work, and visit in order to strengthen the economy for everyone in the City of Danville. Part of that work includes fostering & supporting entrepreneurship for both existing and new businesses that locate to the district. For the second year in a row (thanks to grants from the City of Danville, the Dan River Region Entrepreneurial Ecosystem, and support from the Danville Regional Foundation) RDA conducted a free 6 week Dream Launch bootcamp to help entrepreneurs go into business with the knowledge they need to start, and to also strengthen existing business. Those that complete the 6-week bootcamp are then eligible to pitch for grant funding for their chosen business endeavor.
This year, RDA Dream Launch Pitch culminated with 5 Dream Launch grantees (and additional grants for 3 other businesses that pitched – District 319, Sparxx, and The Vintage Boutique). We are excited to profile each of the Dream Launch grantees and hope you will take the time to visit their businesses – and all of our locally-owned businesses - in the district and beyond.
Blush & Bashful Waxing Spa – Lauren Parks
“I love that Danville is such a huge supporter of small businesses. I am so grateful to have my business in this community.” – Lauren Parks
What made you decide to start this business? I have always loved the beauty and wellness industry and I found an undeserved area in this industry that led me to open Danville's only business dedicated exclusively to waxing.
When did you open? We officially opened for business on December 15th 2018 on Lynn Street in Danville.
Are you originally from Danville? I was born in Danville, grew up in Greensboro, and currently live in Caswell County.
What motivates you? Seeing great results is my biggest motivation. When clients try a new service and love their results, that gives me so much satisfaction!
How do you generate new ideas? Feedback from clients, family, friends, and colleagues helps me generate new ideas. I'm always open to hearing suggestions.
What made you decide to take part in the Dream Launch boot camp/pitch? I am always interested in business building ideas so I keep an eye on local organizations that provide these opportunities. I attended the 1st Dream Launch Bootcamp series in 2019, just 1 month after opening my business.
Did you find the information in the Boot Camp helpful? Bootcamp was helpful in so many ways. The series gave me some insight on how to grow the business, and offered information on many resources and tools to help me in my entrepreneurial journey.
How will the Dream Launch Grant funds help you expand your business? The Dream Launch Grant will help me make the jump from solo operator to adding employees by funding the purchase of additional required equipment for the growth of the business.
Any words of wisdom for new entrepreneurs? Start tiny, imagine big. Seek out resources: your town's Department of Economic Development, Chamber of Commerce, and the local SBDC branch are all great organizations to get information from.
Dominion Athletics/Dominion CrossFit - Jeremy Clifton
“Dominion Athletics is a welcoming environment that challenges individuals both mentally and physically all while building an environment of inclusiveness.” Jeremy Clifton
What made you decide to start this business? The Passion of being a health and fitness instructor has led me to create opportunity in a city that is in a fight against chronic disease and living a healthier lifestyle.
What year did you begin? We opened on Court Street in Danville in 2018.
Are you originally from Danville? Originally from Florida, I attended Averett University where I eventually saw opportunity and the ability to grow patiently in the city of Danville.
What motivates you? Progression and the success of others living and fighting for a healthier lifestyle.
How do you generate new ideas? By having an implied imagination
What made you decide to take part in the Dream Launch boot camp/pitch? Witnessing what it brings to the City of Danville. Also, knowing I have something worth pitching; it shows they are making the proper selections in growing the River District!
Did you find the information in the Boot Camp helpful? Very!!! Recommended for anyone with a business idea even if they do not pitch!
How will the Dream Launch Grant funds help you expand your business? This will help with equipment purchases that will open opportunity for others to succeed with their fitness journey.
Any words of wisdom for new entrepreneurs? “Become the Solution”
Cottontail Weddings & Events - Matthew Switick
"Most people give up just when they're about to achieve success." - Ross Perot
What made you decide to start this business? I have always wanted to start a business in the hospitality industry and had originally dreamed of a restaurant / hotel. However, after experiences working in both, I decided to go in a different direction. After working for banks for a few years after college I was ready for a change and unhappy behind a desk. This industry was an opportunity to blend the aspects I loved about the hospitality industry, while also balancing a family life. We found a friend and mentor in Jeremy who owned the venue where Shelly and I were married (Starlight Meadow, in Burlington NC - great place) and he helped us get started!!
What year did you begin? We started the process in 2014, Incorporated in 2016, and opened for business in 2017 on Craghead Street in Danville.
Are you originally from Danville? My wife Shelly is from this area and went to GW High School. I was a navy brat and lived all over the eastern and western US. We moved to Danville in 2016 as a family to start Cottontail.
What motivates you? Being married, that would be my wife! But seriously, being able to find a way to make this business be sustainable for my family financially as well as emotionally. Which means finding ways to balance the stress and demands of a business with time for my family motivates my efforts.
How do you generate new ideas? I work almost every event myself and seeing how things turn out in each event sparks ideas for ways to improve. I also look online at competitor websites for ideas and read through lots of blogs about the industry. They all help generate ideas. It is all about that experience for the client, and I am always thinking about how to make a better experience for them and their guests.
What should people know about your business? Weddings require a large amount of time, effort and money to plan. However, you can make your life much simpler by hiring the right vendors and choosing the right venue for you. When you look for a wedding venue, take the time to talk with the venue and explain what you want, what you need, and how you envision everything will turn out. These conversations will help you decide and help you figure out where you maybe need to splurge on extra service.
What made you decide to take part in the Dream Launch boot camp/pitch? For a while I had this feeling that Cottontail was straddling the market, stuck in a sort of middle ground. We were growing but seemed to be missing something. I had some ideas about expansions for Cottontail, and the Dream Launch was a great chance to learn, and to look objectively at those ideas to see if they made sense. The whole process really forced me to analyze not only the idea itself, but also my entire business. After this process I have a whole new growth strategy and a firm direction for the future. It can be hard to separate emotion from fact, and I knew that with a large investment like I was considering I needed to have facts to support it. Plus, the chance for funding was a good motivation too.
Did you find the information in the Boot Camp helpful? What we learned in the boot camp was what I wish I knew in 2014 when we just got started on the idea. Having gone through these steps I found the classes to be a great refresher to the lessons learned in already starting Cottontail. I would tell anyone thinking about starting a business to take this class. As an existing business, I found it exceptionally helpful to reevaluate my business, and to force into writing what our plan was.
How will the Dream Launch Grant funds help you expand your business? The grant money will be used to purchase dishware/glassware, a commercial dishwasher, and kitchen equipment. With this we will be able to offer a greater level of service to clients and help attract new business into Danville.
Any words of wisdom for new entrepreneurs? Be deliberate in how you spend your time and money, and do not rush into opening. I would recommend reading "The Road Less Stupid" by Keith J. Cunningham it presents a great thought exercise which will serve you well. Also, remember always that you are starting a business, and treat it like such. Separate the business from your personal life - legally and financially.
Nana Karen’s Kitchen - Dustin Haberer
“My main motivator lies in our name. Doesn’t everyone want to make their mother proud?” – Dustin Haberer
What made you decide to start this business? Two reasons; First-to finally turn all the skills I’ve learned working for someone else into an opportunity to run a successful business for myself and my own profits. Secondly, to honor my late mother- Karen Haberer who died at the age of 49 from liver cancer.
What year did you begin? Our first operation, Nana Karen’s Cruisin’ Kitchen food truck launched February 6, 2017. (Editor Note – while the food truck will continue to operate, their new physical location on Main Street is scheduled to open Fall 2020).
Are you originally from Danville? Originally from Syracuse, New York (Go Orange!) and relocated to Danville in January 2005.
What motivates you? In addition to early retirement, the ability to travel, and providing a comfortable quality of life for my family-the main motivator lies in our name. Doesn’t everyone want to make their mother proud?!
How do you generate new ideas? Trust my instincts and my pallet. Actively listen to my customer demographic. Allow myself to be coached and be willing to take risks
Why did you decide to go into the restaurant business? I started as a dishwasher in New York at 15 years old. I’ve spent the last 20 years building my skill set to achieve Executive Chef certifications while gaining the knowledge, experience, and versatility to prepare me for opening Nana Karen’s on Main.
What made you decide to take part in the Dream Launch boot camp/pitch? A referral from a previous client informed me of the program. After doing some research, I realized it was an opportunity too good to pass up for the experience alone, if nothing else.
Did you find the information in the Boot Camp helpful? Absolutely, the insight I gained from the presenters and working through the business plan process with professionals was extremely helpful.
How will the Dream Launch Grant funds help you expand your business? Our grant money will be used for kitchen equipment, allowing us to invest more of our own capital in renovations and marketing.
Any words of wisdom for new entrepreneurs? So many! Start small. Be willing to do the work. Remember, you don’t know everything; so be willing to be flexible and open to insight from others. Be realistic with projections and most importantly don’t give up!
Ma’s Cakes – Mary Walker & The Walker Family
“We love our customers and the response we get when new customers taste our cake for the first time makes us all smile.” – The Walker Family
What made you decide to start this business? We started the business because our recipe that everyone seemed to love was doing so well while vending. We decided it was time to pursue this venture on a larger scale.
What year did you begin? The business started in 2016. (Editors Note: Ma’s Cakes is currently renovating their physical space that will open on Main Street, tentatively scheduled for 2021).
Are you originally from Danville? We are originally from Danville
What motivates you? The love, care, and time that Mary Annette Walker, affectionately known as “Ma”, puts toward making cakes- and sharing that with each individual as if they’re the only cake customer.
How do you generate new ideas? We try to stay innovative and current with the industry through social media and research. We love being creative with new flavors and recipes whenever we are in the kitchen. Using polls and customer surveys helps us better understand our customers and what they are wanting in their cake choices.
You have an exceptionally large following. How did it start? Our business is family owned and operated. What started as a hobby back in the 90’s for our local congregation and community has flourished into a thriving business and household name. We love our customers and the response we get when new customers taste our cakes for the first time makes us all smile. Our specialties are gourmet and designer cakes uncommon in the industry. Our desire is to create a legacy and reach a demographic from the youngest child to the most mature adult.
What made you decide to take part in the Dream Launch boot camp/pitch? We realized the information was invaluable and an opportunity we could seize in our community. We understood that the Dream Launch Bootcamp/Launch would help us be better businesspeople and a greater asset to the River District Community.
Did you find the information in the Boot Camp helpful? The information in the Bootcamp was extremely helpful and it helped us to think about business ideas that we had not thought of. We learned new strategies and formed a plan to take our business further.
How will the Dream Launch Grant funds help you expand your business? The Dream Launch Grant Funds will be used to help us expand our business with the major equipment such as a hood system and refrigeration, which are big ticket items.
Any words of wisdom for new entrepreneurs? Strive to be the best that you can and realize that no one can beat you at doing what you were gifted and crafted to do. There is enough for everybody, so let’s go get ours!