February 8, 2017

MARTINSVILLE – A program to help entrepreneurs and other business owners be successful is marking its 10th anniversary by providing a total of $15,000 in financial incentives to help participants develop their firms.

SmartSTART, sponsored by the Martinsville-Henry County Economic Development Corp.’s (EDC) Small Business Division, includes classes to teach people skills needed to launch, manage and grow businesses.

The focus is on developing business plans.


“Research has shown that a good business plan can be a crucial step for sensible entrepreneurs, regardless of whether it is a start-up or an established company,” said Valerie Harper, director of the Small Business Division. “It gives a realistic view of the obstacles that may be faced and can often be required to secure funding. A good plan can sometimes even determine whether a business venture is worthwhile.”

Classes will be held from 5-8:30 p.m. Tuesdays from March 14 through May 2 at the New College Institute on Fayette Street uptown. Because seats are limited, registration is necessary by calling the EDC at 403-5940 or going online to www.YesMartinsville.com/SS. Participants will be refunded the $75 registration cost when they graduate.

Probably no more than 15 seats will be available, Harper said.

It has not yet been decided how the financial incentives will be allocated, she said.

Each class will focus on a specific topic such as research, marketing, financial planning, sales and operational plans and taught by business professionals within the community, Harper said. People who taught classes in the past have made themselves available to participants for advice long after classes ended, she added.

The nationally-recognized program originally was known as FastTrac, but the EDC “tweaked it a bit,” Harper said, to make it better apply to Martinsville-Henry County’s specific needs, hence it being renamed locally.

About 140 people have graduated from the program since it began in 2007. Graduates have included owners of successful businesses such as Casting Logos, ATM Motors, Southern Virginia Properties, Rising Sun Breads, Happy Feet Early Learning Center, CrossFit276 and Dawson Photography, according to Harper.

A similar program sponsored by the Chamber’s Partnership for Economic Growth (C-PEG), Startup Martinsville-Henry County, Virginia, is accepting applications through Feb. 17. Its classes, taught by Patrick Henry Community College President Angeline Godwin, will be held from 6-9 p.m. on Thursdays from March 2 through April 20 at the college’s IDEA Center on Fayette Street uptown.

However, Startup Martinsville-Henry County classes are geared more toward people planning to start businesses or who are interested in starting one, said Martinsville-Henry County Chamber of Commerce President and C-PEG Executive Director Amanda Witt, who is a SmartSTART graduate.


Witt said she encourages entrepreneurs to participate in both programs.

“Any help available for entrepreneurs in our community is wonderful,” she said.

SmartSTART is open to owners of existing businesses as well as entrepreneurs, Harper said, because “a lot of business owners are flying by the seat of their pants,” so to speak.

Because of their limited resources, “they’re (focusing on) working in their businesses instead of working on their businesses,” she said. In such situations, “you don’t have a lot of time to think about where your business is going” in the future.

She recalled that the current owner of a local business operating for more than 50 years attended SmartSTART because he realized that business conditions have changed over the years and he wanted to “learn how to adjust to today’s market.”

Some past SmartSTART participants ultimately decided not to go into business for themselves for various reasons, such as determining “the market was not quite ready for” their ideas, Harper said.

While SmartSTART’s goal is to help businesses be successful, she considers those people to have had success with the program, too, she said, because it resulted in them not spending a lot of money and time on an idea that might not have been successful in the long run.