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SBA grants will be used to help underserved businesses

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Print this page by Stephenie Overman
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Francine Spinelli and Zee Worstell’s accelerator is focused on
helping women business owners. Photo by Mark Rhodes

Two Hampton Roads-area groups helping small companies plan to use federal grants to reach out to underserved businesses owned by women and veterans.

The JunipHER Project in Williamsburg and REaKTOR in Hampton (formerly the National Institute of Aerospace’s Peninsula Technology Incubator) are among 20 winners of the U.S. Small Business Administration’s fourth Growth Accelerator Fund competition. The Hampton Roads organizations each received $50,000.

Headed by Zee Worstell and Francine Spinelli, JunipHER Project is a business accelerator for mid-stage businesses owned by women. Worstell and Spinelli also are co-owners of AccelerateHER, an organization focused on helping women business owners achieve the same level of success as their male counterparts.

The SBA’s grants were awarded to organizations that had won previously, Worstell notes. Last year JunipHER Project used its grant to build a virtual infrastructure.

“This year we want to reach out more to rural and suburban women,” she says. “We’re focused on women who are already established, who have started up but failed to scale. We realized there was a gap” for that group of women.

JunipHER Project began in January 2016, and the first group of women has graduated from the program. Its curriculum concentrates on “the nuts and bolts of how to move your business to the next level,” says Worstell. In addition to online classes, the women support each other through  monthly video conference calls, she says.

REaKTOR focuses on high-tech, high-potential growth businesses in the unmanned systems field. A winner of SBA grants twice in the past, it plans to use the latest grant “to leverage women and veterans who are underserved” and to attract investment to the Hampton Roads area, says Executive Director Daniel Morris. 

One of the program’s goals, he says, “is to create an opportunity for investors from the Eastern Shore to Charlottesville. We haven’t had the traction of capital in the area.

“There is a lot of hidden talent on the East Coast that needs to be tapped in to, but the problem is making the connection between highly scalable growth companies and investors,” he says. “Our area is ripe. Silicon Valley is oversaturated.” 




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