Gauntlet entrepreneurs prepare for upcoming competition

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Vinton Assistant Town Manager Pete Peters (center) gave Gauntlet entrepreneurs a tour of Vinton on April 1, including the business resources at the Vinton Public Library.
Annette Patterson (front) established The Advancement Foundation (TAF) and the Gauntlet Business Program and Competition. Kathleen Carr (center) is the Outreach Coordinator for TAF and facilitates the Gauntlet program. Kelly Robertson is the Operations Manager for TAF and works with the Gauntlet program.

Annette Patterson, founder of The Advancement Foundation (TAF) and the Gauntlet Business Program and Competition, opens each class session asking for a volunteer to give an “Elevator Speech.”

The prospect is a little intimidating, so often she coaxes them with offers of chocolate or other small prizes

An Elevator Speech or Elevator Pitch is basically a very short “icebreaker” an entrepreneur develops to introduce an idea, product, or service to get a conversation started.

The concept is that if you step onto an elevator, you don’t have long to talk with a fellow passenger and must get your thoughts across quickly, memorably, and succinctly. It’s not meant exactly to sell your business but to make someone (who might be a potential customer or investor) aware of your business and to make him or her want to know more— and to help make your business or product seem unique.

“We like Gauntlet participants to practice their elevator speech because when they are networking and promoting their business, they only have a small window of opportunity to catch someone’s attention,” said Kathleen Carr, Outreach Coordinator for TAF who works with Gauntlet entrepreneurs. “It’s not a sales pitch; it’s an opportunity to make an impression to then further discussion and relationship.”

Gauntlet participant Lois Fritz, who enrolled in the Gauntlet classes to learn how to make her non-profit New Freedom Farm no more sustainable, said her Elevator Speech goes something like this:

“Hello, I am Lois Fritz, US Navy Veteran and Founder of New Freedom Farm. We are a nonprofit for veterans with PTSD, substance abuse, and traumatic brain injury. Our farm is 100 percent handicap accessible. We offer a safe place for veterans and their families to come. We have horses which veterans and their families interact with. Horses and a farm setting can be very healing. Please feel free to call us or come by for a visit: we would love have you. Our mission is healing humans through horses. Unfortunately, 22 veterans a day commit suicide in our country and having veterans have a sense of belonging at New Freedom Farm really helps.”

Donte Larry is planning to start up an Airsoft business. He says he might introduce himself and his business by catching attention in an Elevator Speech, with, “Did you like to play cops and robbers as a kid? I’m with Guardian Angels Airsoft which gives civilians an opportunity for military training— sort of like Paintball.”

Holly and Jonathan Hart are developing an outdoor adventure business and would open a conversation with:

“Hi. My name is Holly Hart. My husband, Jonathan, and I own and operate Blue Mountain Huts, an adventure hut system that provides shuttle service, lodging, and catered meals to the outdoor enthusiast. Our huts are strategically placed along scenic routes in beautiful Southwest Virginia to accommodate road cyclists, mountain bikers, and river paddlers. Our clients just need to decide on the adventure. We’ll take care of the details. “

Heather Oltmanns is working on a plan to open a children’s clothing consignment shop.

“I think I would say hello, introduce myself, and ask if the person had children. If they do, then I would say something along the lines of– kids grow so fast these days and clothes are expensive. Would you be interested in information on how to turn your children’s outgrown clothes into a profit, and be able to find name brand quality clothes at a fraction of the cost? When they say yes, I would give them my business card and direct them to my store.”

Gray and Michelle Craig will be opening a community workshop where professional tools and instruction will be available in a variety of crafts such as woodworking, textiles, and metalwork, but also technology such as using 3D printers to create prototypes.

Their opening conversation-starter would be, “Have you ever wished for a garage, basement, studio, or workspace fully equipped with everything you need to work on the ideas, but are limited by your tools and space? Come to Blue Ridge Makers Guild, where we connect people back to vocations, technologies, and the spirit of do-it-yourself invention.”

Gauntlet students have been given the opportunity to tour Roanoke County, Vinton, and Botetourt Counties on weekend excursions to see the lay of the land and resources available, and to help find properties which might be for sale or lease and zoned appropriately for their proposed or expanding business venture. They also receive extra points in the Gauntlet Competition for participating in the arranged tours.

Vinton Assistant Town Manager Pete Peters conducted the Vinton tour on April 1 for 16 entrepreneurs.

“I gave them a 20-minutte introduction to the town’s recent redevelopment activity, such as the Greenway, the Roland E. Cook Lofts, the former William Byrd High School, the $700,000 Community Development Block Grant, the new Macado’s Restaurant, etc.,” said Peters. “I discussed the various small business assistance programs that we offer and the grant/loan programs such as Change of Use Grants, the Facade Enhancement Program, and the Revolving Loan Fund.”

“I provided them with a listing of 10 available properties around Vinton for Lease and highlighted several commercial properties available for sale,” said Peters. “We then took a 30-minute tour of the downtown to see several of the available spaces, and also some of the public buildings like the town hall and the library.”

Kathleen Carr said there have been group tours in Botetourt, Fincastle and Vinton.

“We had a great turn out! As for the other three localities–Troutville, the Williamson Road area, and the Brambleton area-– our entrepreneurs can make individual appointments. These localities weren’t able to do a walking tour, but offered to do individual meetings to share their opportunities. These tours/meetings have been a great benefit for our entrepreneurs to experience.”

In the Gauntlet Business Program and Competition over 80 entrepreneurs from 50 starting or expanding businesses are “studying the feasibility of their proposed business, exploring business models, and developing business plans.” The Gauntlet process will conclude with presentations by individual entrepreneurs to a panel of judges and then an awards ceremony on May 11 with the awarding of $200,000 in cash and prizes.