Regions Southwest Virginia

Challenge aims to drive entrepreneurship

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Print this page by Veronica Garabelli
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Carol and Mark Caruso will use a $10,000
grant to buy outdoor gear for their business.

Pathfinders Outdoor Ad­­ventures in Norton soon will become a full-time outdoor outfitter, thanks to The My SWVA Opportunity Entre­­­­­­preneurship Challenge, an effort to encourage businesses in Southwest Virginia.

Mark and Carol Caruso were first-place winners in the challenge, which awarded more than $30,000 in grants for new and existing businesses looking to expand and create jobs in the region. The Carusos will use their $10,000 grant to purchase outdoor gear. 

“Without the excellent instruction and advice provided by the Challenge Team, we would not have decided to expand our small, weekend-only, firearms training business into a full-service outfitter,” the Carusos said in an email.

A grand opening for their business, Pathfinders Outdoor Adventures, will be held in early June in conjunction with Norton’s Best Friends Festival. 

The inaugural challenge, sponsored by the Virginia Department of Housing & Community Development, took place over seven months last year. 

“It was a multilevel, dynamic competition,” says Shannon Blevins, director of economic development at the University of Virginia’s College at Wise, who served on the steering team. The program accepted 21 business ideas. Eleven entrepreneurs completed the program, and seven already have opened their businesses.

During the competition, participants attended classes to learn business fundamentals and develop business plans.

“I have my master’s in business, and we covered everything I covered in a master’s program in three months,” says Terri Funk, owner of Clinch River Adventures in Saint Paul, who placed second in the competition and won a $5,000 grant. Participants also took part in networking activities and received support from mentors.

Winners were selected on factors such as attendance, business pitches and regional strategy alignment. For example, three of the six winners were tied to the Clinch River Valley Initiative, which aims to connect downtown revitalization, outdoor recreation, water quality, entrepreneurship and environmental education in areas along the Clinch River.

The challenge eventually will expand to other parts of Southwest Virginia. Last year’s challenge was limited to people interested in opening or expanding businesses in Buchanan, Dickenson, Lee, Russell, Scott, Tazewell and Wise counties in addition to Norton.

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