Last fall, Marion Downtown Revitalization Association introduced a pilot project designed to help fill vacant downtown storefronts. Called “Pop Up Marion,” the project provides up to $5,000 in grant funds for qualifying new downtown businesses to help offset startup costs.
The initial funding was provided by Virginia Main Street through a competitive grant process. Executive director Ken Heath found additional funds to help sweeten the pot.
“Radio stations WOLD/WZVA jumped on board to offer $1,000 to each of the contest winners,” said Heath. “The Chamber of Commerce of Smyth County provided free membership for the winning businesses, and our downtown Wells Fargo Bank was so excited that they provided an additional $5,000 to help us provide the funding for another startup to join our downtown business family.”
The successful project brought two new businesses to Marion’s Main Street district, and MDRA is ready for round two. To qualify for start-up funding, entrepreneurs have to go to small business boot camp, designed especially for the types of businesses that Marion’s Main Street needs.
“We completed a community survey that gave us great information on what types of businesses our area would most likely support,” said Heath.
Partnering with People Inc., the Virginia Department of Business Assistance and the local sponsors, MDRA’s program provides eight sessions of classroom instruction for those thinking about starting a business.
“The modules are designed to be a great way to get someone ready to start a business through the boot camp process,” said Heath, “but each class stands alone so that if someone is interested in just one or two sessions, they are welcome to attend and sharpen their skills.” Heath says he believes that offering continuing opportunities for growing and adapting small businessed is key to success at all stages of the business’s life.
Seating preference for the boot camp will be given to entrepreneurs who want to explore opening businesses downtown, but everyone interested in participating will be welcome to attend as space allows. The classes are free, but registration is required. Those interested in the pop up grant program MUST attend all eight sessions, successfully present a business plan and open a business in downtown Marion within 90 days following “graduation”.