Toan Nguyen, Co-Founder and CEO, C’ville Central
What are you innovating on right now?
At C’ville Central, we are building a company that can funnel some of the enormous economic wealth in the community to small women and minority-owned businesses in the Charlottesville area.
C’ville Central is a contracting company that provides painting, contracting, landscaping, and cleaning services by delegating the work out to small, independent companies. We provide quality assurance and accountability to the client. To the subcontractors, we assist with marketing, sales, and provide accounting support.
We have been very successful in our first year and are in the process of expanding our subcontractor base.
What inspired you to follow an entrepreneurial path?
I took a wonderful course on entrepreneurship from Professor Andrea Larson at the Darden Business School and was hooked.
Tell us what you learned from your biggest failure.
In 2007 we wanted to take our honey bunches (a delicious treat that has been called “Charlottesville’s crack”) nationally. We formed C’ville Cookie, a cookie company that had a wholesale, retail, and an internet strategy for growth. We had an investor and the project expanded very quickly. When the recession hit, the investor had to pull out and our company could not be sustained without the planned infusion of funds because we had grown too quickly.
I have learned tremendously from that experience, especially that it takes time to grow a company. Patience is key.
How does Charlottesville as a place support or fuel your innovations?
Charlottesville is a perfectly-balanced community to test new ventures in. It is small enough that spreading the word takes very little time (at a relatively small cost), but also large enough to have the critical mass that makes a company sustainable.
What would you change or keep the same in Charlottesville?
There is a wonderful spirit of collaboration between U.Va and the local community, and that is something that should never change. I am embarking on a 2 year project with Professor David Edmund, part of the Global Development Studies Program at U.Va, that looks at the logistics of building a business complex that could employ, train, and house members of the community who are currently homeless. Another example is the I Lab, the incubator for entrepreneurs at the Darden Business School that welcomes 12 local community members a year into its program.
This kind of collaboration is very healthy and great for the whole community.
What is your biggest need right now to advance your innovation?
We have incorporated the lesson from our failure with the cookie company and are growing C’ville Central slowly, without any outside investors. However, the limiting factor in growing C’ville Central is that there are only 24 hours in a day. I am on 4 non-profit boards and have various community engagements throughout the day, all in addition to running C’ville Coffee.
What is the view from your office like on a typical day?
I have a corner office next to the dish-washing machine in the back of C’ville Coffee with a window looking out into the parking lot. I see all the people coming and going into the coffee shop. These days, I look out at the huge construction mess in from of C’ville Coffee and wish that it would end soon!