Accelerating Asheville had a bumper crop in 2014, it’s first year of growing nature-based businesses.
The accelerator – the first of its kind in the U.S. – graduated 10 business from their mentoring and training program. Those entrepreneurs included EchoView Fiber Mill, Riverbend Malt House and Smoking J’s Fiery Foods. Five of the graduates have received investment in the past 18 months, with 35 new jobs created, 106 acres of new farmland created and 12 new farmers in the network of those businesses, according to Executive Director SaraDay Evans.
“We picked some stellar companies for our first group. We helped them prepare for investment and we work with them beyond graduation to help them develop their supply chain,” Evans says.
Now the accelerator has opened its application process for a new batch of entrepreneurs to nurture. Evans is excited about the prospects. She’s already spotting entrepreneurial trends in the areas of seeds and soil, grasses and grains. “We’re working with more sector specialists, and that’s informed how we’re launching and what we’re seeking in 2015.”
The accelerator also made some key adjustments, and learned some lessons of its own, over the past year.
“We learned that not everyone is seeking investment. We found that our greatest strength is in identifying high-touch services for sustainable businesses to commit to grow – not those that just look to scale out and sell,” Evans said. “I’m really trying to make that distinction and build businesses around an ecosystem that we want to see in our economy.”
Accelerating Appalachia also responded when Warren Wilson College reached out and asked it to take over redesign its sustainable business class. And the accelerator continued to raise money as it created a nature-based business investment network, Evans said.
“We have a new partnership with new fund called Reinventure Capital. We’ve partnered with Slow Money. We have somebody in San Francisco,” she said. “We have somebody in Boston. And we have our own network here, so we have a pretty cool core.”
Evans credits her colleagues with the first-year success, from the Accelerating Appalachia board members to advice from mentor David McConville to seed money provided by AdvantageWest and the Appalachian Regional Commission. Dayna Reggero has been “the best communications maven,” Evans said, while Kimberly Hunter has applied her 20 years of experience as “a highly intuitive and creative chief facilitator.” Jennifer Flynn, with a background in botanicals and neutriceuticals, “keeps us on point in operations.
“We have a really solid team,” she said.