A theme of the first Vibrant Virginia Book Webinar was the importance of inclusive entrepreneurship and community building.

The webinar featured Vibrant Virginia Book authors Erik Pages and Scott Tate and professor and researcher Elsie Harper-Anderson.

Pages’ and Tate’s chapter, “Connecting Entrepreneur Ecosystems across Urban and Rural Regions: Lessons from Central and Western Virginia,” focuses on helping rural entrepreneurs link into emerging ecosystems in large and midsize cities and extending the benefits of urban areas to rural areas.

The webinar began with opening remarks from Tate, Pages, and Harper-Anderson. Audience members asked panelists questions about the chapter and entrepreneurship in Virginia for the remaining half of the event.

Elsie Harper-Anderson, who is an Associate Professor of Urban and Regional Planning at Virginia Commonwealth University, said, “A lot of the issues that rural communities face are the same things that I talk about with certain communities in urban areas who may be disconnected geographically from the ecosystem or lack access to resources or technology. There’s a lot to explore in what underlies that disconnect other than just space, and if there are ways to approach it that benefit both rural and urban communities.”

“Every place is so specific and unique so you have to be sure that you’re paying attention to the particularities of your place. We should make sure that there are multiple on-ramps or entries for lots of different types of people to access and get benefits from those resources,” said Tate, who is Associate Director of the Center for Economic & Community Engagement at Virginia Tech.

On-ramps are any type of access point where people can familiarize themselves with the resources and the support services in a particular ecosystem.

“However, it’s not just necessarily just having a space, it’s how comfortable people are using or accessing the space,” Tate said.

Panelists agreed that elitism can be a problem in the world of entrepreneurship.

“Building the widest possible pipeline that is most inclusive and engages the widest variety of people in the community should be the goal of a successful entrepreneurship program,” said Pages, President of Entreworks Consulting.

“I think there needs to be a reframing of our elitist notions of entrepreneurship. We should be keying into what people’s talents are and whether there’s a market for them. I think the public workforce system can play a much bigger role in that,” said Harper-Anderson.

Anchor institutions can also play a part in terms of where they make their investment, said Tate. “They can choose to work with low-income or minority entrepreneurs in a very intentional way to make some of the purchasing decisions and keep more wealth in the community, which will help some entrepreneurs be able to succeed and grow,” said Tate.

The COVID-19 pandemic has placed a focus on hybrid work environments and creating coworking spaces for people to share and use to connect with others in their community. Home-based businesses are also an important part of the picture, even more so now, said Pages.

“Most people start a business in their home or in their dorm room. [Home-based businesses] need to be a core focus of anything we do in entrepreneur-led economic development,” he said.

The idea of job creation versus community building was also a topic of discussion – instead of focusing solely on the number of jobs created by a business, it is important to think about the non-tangible benefits businesses such as bakeries, restaurants, and bookstores can have, said Pages. These places can be important meeting spaces in the community, spaces to which individuals have an “emotional tie.”

Panelists also touched on the value of youth entrepreneurship training to help make entrepreneurship more accessible. We should help youth see entrepreneurship as an “acceptable route” and something they can do, regardless of whether or not they go to college, said Harper-Anderson.

Visit this link to view the full webinar: https://cece.vt.edu/VibrantVirginia/VVConferenceSeries.html