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As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to affect businesses, many entrepreneurs are likely to seek out loans or government grant money to sustain their business. But Charlottesville and area organizations are helping these entrepreneurs secure more than just money. Organizations like the Charlottesville Business Innovation Council, the Central Virginia Small Business Development Center and Charlottesville’s Office of Economic Development are creating networks for entrepreneurs to stay connected, providing training to adapt to their new normal and coaching on how to access government money or loans. Christina Ball, owner and director of Speak! Language Center, was awarded the Building Resiliency Among Charlottesville Entrepreneurs and the Rapid Response Small Business Aversion Grant. She said she did not need help applying for these grants. But if she wanted help to apply for government dollars, she could’ve gotten help from  the Central Virginia Small Business Development since she received free business advice from one of the company’s counselors who helped her with her strategy as she pivots her business online. She said a counselor from the company has helped via email support and weekly phone check-ins. “[We] came up with a to-do list for my online development marketing,” Ball said. “The [counselor] shared local resources that might  help me. These are free resources that people might not know about.” Founded in 2004, Speak! moved its lessons online since it shut down its brick-and-mortar temporarily due to the pandemic. Ball is looking forward to improving her business’s online presence by redesigning the website to include search optimization and marketing features. She said that would allow her to compete with other companies that already have strong online presence. Ball used to have five or six registrations per week before the crisis began. But that changed. “It was like nothing for 20 days,” Ball said. “That was really scary.”
Christina Ball is owner and director of Speak! Language Center in Charlottesville. Credit: Credit: By photographer Jen Fariello
The pandemic has prompted the Central Virginia Small Business Development to more than double its counselor’s hours and hired two more counselors to assist entrepreneurs with anything pertaining to business, including capital available to them, marketing and financial strategy. Aside from coaching on how to get access to government money, Central Virginia Small Business Development Director Rebecca Haydock said her organization is spending time teaching entrepreneurs how to diversify income, re-strategizing and pivoting their company. “We’re helping with the federal programs because we have real-time information,” Haydock said, who has been updating the organization’s website every 24 to 48 hours, adding that the counselors also help educate those looking for traditional bank loans. A report that Haydock ran over the weekend indicated the number of firms her team has helped up to this month is at the level of last year’s numbers. People are struggling, she said, noting being able to call someone at her firm is beneficial. Since the pandemic outbreak, Charlottesville’s Office of Economic Development has rolled several loans and grants, including its Building Resiliency Among Charlottesville Entrepreneurs issuing $80,000 to 40 businesses. The city will roll out the $30,000 Business Recovery Loan in partnership with the Albemarle County, according to Hollie Lee, chief of workforce development strategies. Among the requirements, businesses need to have a 2019 license. A series of webinars will be taught by David Deaton, of Deaton Group Consulting, called Pivoting Your Business Model, Financial Stability and Recovery. Organized by the City of Charlottesville, Albemarle County and the Piedmont Virginia Community College, all series is set to run from 9 to 11 a.m. on April 22 and 29 and May 13 and will be available on the Office of Economic Development’s Facebook page. Lee said area business will have to think long-term because things will change after the pandemic. “What was normal before might not be normal anymore,” Lee said, stressing people have gotten used to “other ways of doing things.” The food industry, for example, has changed. Normally people used to sit in and order their meals, but they’re now ordering takeout or delivery. Restaurants that used to not deliver are either delivering themselves or partnering with a third party that does. “Maybe they might become used to the ways of doing business and might rethink the need for bricks-and-mortar types of situations,” she said. “So, if you have people who can work from home and offer consulting services, you don’t necessarily need an office anymore.” Tracey Greene, executive director of Charlottesville Business Innovation Council, moved her fundraising gala that was scheduled for May to the fall, and converted all other events online. But, most importantly, she had developed ways for all area entrepreneurs to stay connected.
Hair salons and barber shops are some of the “non-essential” local businesses impacted by new restrictions to curb the spread of COVID-19. Credit: Credit: Mike Kropf / Charlottesville Tomorrow
Greene wrote a blog post that includes tips for start-up companies to educate them on how to develop ways for more months of operations and reduce their expenses. Greene was already thinking about having a platform for local entrepreneurs to connect, but with the current crisis, she escalated the process and launched Cville Connect, which functions similarly to LinkedIn. Users can create a profile to make blog posts, post videos and ask for referrals on anything pertaining to business. She has also created a Google spreadsheet that can be found on her website  as a resource for those wanting to provide their expertise to companies, including those having an expertise in raising money, strategizing pivoting for startups, among others. “We will continuingly expand and develop new tools and opportunities for our community,” Greene said. Charlottesville Business Innovation Council: Central Virginia Small Business Development Center: Community Investment Collaborative:

Billy Jean Louis joined Charlottesville Tomorrow as its education reporter in April 2019 and is a graduate of the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications. Born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Jean Louis speaks English, Haitian Creole and French.