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The Community Investment Collaborative hopes its new co-working space gives budding small-business owners a foothold in downtown Charlottesville before they brave the city’s crowded real estate market.
CIC hosted an open house Friday to introduce the co-working space, dubbed the Collaborative, which is within the organization’s offices at the Citizens Commonwealth Center on Preston Avenue.
“The Collaborative gives our clients who don’t yet have office space a place to land or do work downtown,” said CIC President Stephen Davis.
The Charlottesville Office of Economic Development reported in January that the city’s shopping centers had a vacancy rate of just 1.11 percent.
The CIC provides microloans and business education programs to entrepreneurs in Charlottesville and neighboring counties. Since its founding in 2012, the group has awarded more than $206,000 in loans, helped to launch 61 businesses and aided in the growth of 76 existing businesses.
“A loan is only good if it leads to a business growing,” Davis said.
CIC businesses have created more than 100 full-time-equivalent jobs, according to the organization’s website. However, Davis said the CIC doesn’t just focus on boosting entrepreneurs who could become large employers.
“For our clients who are coming in with the least resources, helping them achieve stable self-employment is just as much of a success,” Davis said.
The CIC plans to charge members a $25 monthly fee for access to the co-working space, and $10 to reserve a conference or meeting room. The organization is offering free trial periods for CIC workshop participants and alumni.
Along with Wi-Fi, a printer, whiteboards and coffee, the Collaborative also will provide free “office hour” appointments with attorneys and business consultants.
To create the Collaborative, the CIC renovated its offices and hired an operations coordinator. Davis said this was made possible with financial support from local banks and charitable foundations, and from CIC alumni who have started successful businesses.
The CIC also received $25,500 from the city and $10,000 from Albemarle County for the current fiscal year. “We are fortunate to have support from a community that wants to support entrepreneurs across the spectrum,” Davis said.
Several CIC entrepreneurs were at Friday’s open house event.
Lisa Watson enrolled in the CIC Entrepreneur Workshop as she was preparing to launch the Local Nanny Network in 2014. Today, she manages 35 part-time employees who provide on-site childcare at weddings in Central Virginia.
Watson said the CIC gave her valuable advice for branding her business, managing her finances and creating a thorough business plan for her first year.
“I wouldn’t have the discipline to just sit there by myself and think, these are the 17 things I need to do to make my business work,” she said.
Watson said the CIC also helped her to access other opportunities to develop the Local Nanny Network further, including the incubator program at the University of Virginia’s i.Lab and the crowdfunded pitch competition at the Tom Tom Founders Festival.
Michael Cantwell, owner of Cloud Cabin Arts, said he lacked critical business acumen when he began selling his handmade furniture in 2013.
“Something was missing, and I didn’t know what it was,” Cantwell said. “It felt like there was a big, dark cloud over my head, and the [Entrepreneur Workshop] helped break that up.”
Cantwell said the workshop helped him to compartmentalize the array of daunting tasks that he faced as a new entrepreneur.
“I found that I knew more about some things than I thought I did, and knew less about other things than I thought,” he said. “And I learned a lot about everything.”
Workshop students and graduates provided the refreshments for Friday’s open house.
Riki Tanabe brought Hawaiian hors d’oeuvres from Mochiko, his catering service and forthcoming restaurant. Pastry chef Earl Vallery, of Bowerbird Bakeshop, made lemon-crème macarons and matcha-infused chocolate chip cookies.