Greensboro chamber looks to support local entrepreneurs

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GREENSBORO, N.C. -- Recruiting large businesses is vital to cities and towns, but entrepreneurs are often what fuel local economies.

“The majority of jobs come from early-stage companies and from small businesses,” said Lou Anne Flanders-Stec, executive vice president of entrepreneurship for Launch Greensboro.

Flanders-Stec has worked as a CFO for startups, as well as angel and venture funds, in her words, she’s “raised money and written checks.” About nine years ago she went into academia and brought her experience to Greensboro about four years ago.

Launch Greensboro, which is the entrepreneurship initiative of The Greensboro Chamber of Commerce, “encourages and supports an expanding pipeline of innovation, the formation and growth of high-potential emerging businesses, and a vibrant entrepreneurial community that can create new jobs and increase the tax base of the City of Greensboro.”

In other words, it helps entrepreneurs get on and stay on their feet.

“Most people think, ‘Oh I’ll just start a business.’ Yes, you can do that, anyone can do that,” entrepreneur William Dungee said. “But it’s just not that easy.”

Dungee is currently working in the “collab” co-working space for entrepreneurs. There, he and other like-minded people can bounce ideas off each other and learn the ins and outs of business.

“What does it mean to think about taxes, and legal things that no entrepreneur ever wants to think about, but you have to,” Flanders-Stec detailed.

Launch Greensboro has several programs, including its LaunchLab, where its accelerator program provides a platform for “education, inspiration, collaboration and support.” Launch Lab 101 consists of five weekly meetings held with support and experts, as well as program management to help entrepreneurs while they set up their corporate and financial structures.

“It’s about learning together, it’s about helping each other, they finish each other’s sentences by the end of the five weeks,” Flanders-Stec said.

Launch Lab Growth is made up of 14 weekly meetings culminating in a “demo day” event.

“One of the things I always tell people is make sure you’re making a product that solves a problem,” said David Lillard, president and owner of Spartan Branding, a marketing agency in Greensboro.

Lillard is one of several volunteers who visit the program to help mentor the participants.

“It makes you excited for what’s down the road two, three, four, five, 10 years,” he says.

Of the 280 businesses that have gone through the Launch Lab Accelerator Program, Flanders-Stec says 65 percent are still in business.

“After five years the mortality rate is more than 50 percent and so we feel pretty good about that,” she said.

“I would dare say it would be great if every city could have this,” Dungee said. “In a lot of ways, you’ve got the city behind you.”

Launch Greensboro also includes a First Launch Capital Fund; a $2.5 million seed investment fund that focuses on supporting Triad entrepreneurs with the first funding needed to grow their business.

“The accelerator program is supported by the City of Greensboro, so we’re very grateful for that,” Flanders-Stec said.

She adds in 2019, Launch Greensboro had 75 percent minority and woman participation.

“Our goal is to really get them out here prepared,” she said.

The program is always in search of mentors and investors, Flanders-Stec said. Volunteers are also vital, especially those who created businesses in Greensboro.

“Knowing that there are other businesses that have succeeded in the area is really valuable,” Lillard said.

“Honestly, five years down the road I hope to be here at the Collab mentoring somebody like me,” Dungee said.

To learn more about Launch Greensboro, click here.

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