As a CDF Board member, I am very proud of the role CDF played in launching and supporting the VilCap Start Entrepreneurial Accelerator Program in Clarkston.
For more than two years, our Board had talked about ways to encourage local jobs and local business ownership. Peter Roberts, a professor with Social Enterprise at Emory’s Gozuieta Business School, shared similar interests. He introduced us to an investment group called Village Capital, who proposed with Peter to set up an entrepreneurial pilot project in Clarkston.
With help from Sandra Achury at Refugee Women’s Network, along with additional Clarkston groups like the CCC and business people, the Accelerator Program was born! Fifteen enthusiastic finalists met every Wednesday night for three months, getting a crash course in subjects like accounting, marketing, budgeting, etc. As important, they practiced their presentation and communication skills with each other and with outside advisors at each session.
By the end of March, many of the participants had already made major progress with their businesses. They landed significant new contracts, arranged for outside financing, and even hired each other in some cases. And they decided, themselves, which three participants would receive $10,000 business loans to accelerate their specific businesses.
At the final party to celebrate the successful completion of the Accelerator Program, each entrepreneur stood to say a few words. It was obvious that this trial program had been a life-changing event for many. They had clearly gained new confidence in their ability to succeed, along with valuable new skills. No question that the program was a huge success. We will be repeating it again next year, for a new set of participants.
For me, personally, the success of the Accelerator Program was proof that CDF’s model of community encouragement and engagement can make a profound difference in people’s lives and in the trajectory of the overall community. It was terrific to see how each participant had learned and grown from the program. Their confidence in themselves and in each other, and the friendships and connections they made as a result of their work together, were extremely gratifying. There were a lot of joyful tears, hugs, and congratulations at the celebration party!
I am very grateful to all who participated, and I am proud that CDF was involved.
John Whitehead is Board Chair of CDF