Gauntlet Business Program classes are coming to a close with students making official presentations on their businesses to panels of judges starting April 24.
Cash and prizes totaling $200,000 will be awarded at a ceremony at the Vinton War Memorial on May 11. Gauntlet founder Annette Patterson said that each entrepreneur will receive a prize of some type (cash and/or in-kind) tailored for individual needs.
In the Gauntlet Program entrepreneurs from start-up or expanding businesses have participated in three months of classes to “refine their skills and develop their business plans, study the feasibility of their proposed business, and explore business models.”
Throughout the process, Patterson and assistants Kathleen Carr and Kelly Robertson have been working side by side with the entrepreneurs.
Carr is the Outreach Coordinator for The Advancement Foundation (TAF) non-profit, which Patterson founded in 2007 with the vision of improving the lives of individuals and the economic health of communities.
Carr grew up in Roanoke and graduated from Virginia Tech with a degree in Hospitality and Tourism Management.
“About a year and a half ago, I realized I wanted to develop a career in non-profits,” said Carr. “After a few months of searching, I found an AmeriCorps opportunity with TAF and took it.
“Working at TAF has been an amazing experience,” she said. “I have learned a lot in a little amount of time, and wouldn’t have it any other way. Annette is an amazing businesswoman and leader. Everyone works so hard at TAF, but we still have a welcoming and fun environment, which I think is a direct reflection of Annette. I love to hear her talk about how much TAF has grown and I’m proud that I am now a part of that growth.”
Carr said, “As the Gauntlet continues to unfold, it has been wonderful to get to know all of the entrepreneurs. Their businesses are all different and everyone comes from different backgrounds, but they are working together. We have spent three months together going through this journey and I think everyone has really enjoyed their experience. It’s incredible the connections people have made. The cool thing about The Gauntlet is that once it’s over, we’re going to continue to help and support these small businesses. I can’t wait to see what the future holds for all of our entrepreneurs, the Gauntlet program and competition, and The Advancement Foundation!”
Kelly Robertson is the Operations Manager for TAF, also “a hometown girl from Roanoke.” She graduated from Virginia Western with a degree in General Studies after studying mental health, psychology, and business. She has a Bachelor’s in Sustainable Business and Marketing from Mary Baldwin.
“I love being a part of the TAF team and trying to create opportunities for local folks in our community,” said Robertson. “I adore the Town of Vinton, where our office is located, and I’m so honored to work at a thriving nonprofit where our focus is to help grow our local economy and lead as a business incubator connecting entrepreneurs with resources, in order to make someone’s dream of owning their own business come to fruition. As I always like to say, ‘Teamwork makes the dream work!’
“I believe marketing is the key to a successful business, and I also think that owning your own successful business is a process and a passion,” said Robertson. “When you are passionate about a business venture all you have to do is create a thoughtful/thorough business plan and then surround yourself with resources. I love connecting passionate folks to resources and I think Roanoke County and Botetourt County have geared up to do the same. I can’t wait to see how this year’s Gauntlet will help continue ‘Building Collaborative Communities.’”
Patterson said that Carr and Robertson have “both been instrumental in our growth of the program.”
“They have served to coordinate speakers, connect expert advisors with the entrepreneurs, evaluate the entrepreneurs’ strengths and challenges, track participation, and obtain cash and in-kind gifts for the prizes,” adds Patterson. “They have helped forge partnerships with Roanoke College, and William Byrd, Lord Botetourt, and Glenvar High Schools.”
Lois Fritz enrolled in the Gauntlet classes to learn how to make her New Freedom Farm non-profit for disabled veterans more sustainable.
“The Gauntlet has been invaluable to me,” said Fritz. “I have learned more in these few weeks than I could have ever dreamed of. Everyone has been so willing and helpful to all of the participants. Even the fellow competitors have been encouraging to each other and have shared resources.
“Kathleen has been beyond helpful,” she continues. “She has helped with phone calls, schedules, and information. Annette has been a role model in starting a non-profit and a mentor to me in learning to be program director.”
“I have been fortunate to have interactions with each of them,” said Holly Hart, who with her husband Jonathan is starting up an outdoor adventure business, Blue Mountain Huts. “All are incredibly kind and helpful. From help with improving design on the business plan by giving suggestions as to software to use to improve my graphs and tables, to fielding questions about resources, to words of encouragement to just not panic, Kelly and Kathleen have been wonderful.
“Just as wonderful, of course, has been Annette,” said Hart. “Her fire and excitement makes her a true inspiration. Annette has spent time proofing our very long-winded business plan; she has made invaluable suggestions regarding our plan document and our business itself. She has helped us brainstorm and bounce ideas around. She has connected us to individuals that have proven invaluable to us from our mentors to connections with county officials and others in the tourism industry. Her networking skills are incredible. It does more than just give us a connection, it fosters a sense of community, that seems rare these days. (I am proud to say the Roanoke Valley and surrounding areas are great communities to be a part of.) Most importantly, her words of encouragement, her belief in our idea, have helped us believe in ourselves.
“This event, these people, have made all the difference,” Hart said. “They are helping us make our dream of a small business a reality. For that, we are eternally grateful and look forward to giving back, to help others achieve the same.”
Donte Larry, who plans to open Guardian Angels Airsoft, said that he has worked with Robertson since he started with Financial Peace University at the TAF’s HIVE Business Incubation Center in Vinton.
“She has helped me and my family out so much,” said Larry. “Annette founded the program and if there had to be a ‘wizard’ at this business thing, she is it, anytime. I try and get as much as I can when I talk to Kathleen. She is the sweetest person I know. She always has a huge smile and makes everyone feel like superheroes just for trying. Without Kelly, Annette, and Kathleen, I don’t think I would have ever gotten a chance to see what I can do, so for me, without them I wouldn’t be here.”
Gray and Michelle Craig are developing a community workshop– Blue Ridge Makers Guild– and say Carr and Robertson “have been wonderful guides during the process, very encouraging, and very accessible throughout.”
Heather Oltmanns, who is developing a children’s clothing consignment shop, said, “All of the people at TAF are wonderful. I have learned so much from them. Anytime you have a question, they are always willing to help. The Gauntlet has been a wonderful experience.”