Virginia Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling was the keynote speaker at a dinner on Thursday evening organized by Sweet Briar’s business department in honor of local entrepreneurs.
Before making his remarks, Bolling was enlisted to hand out certificates of recognition to about a dozen men and women who take on the hard work and risk of running businesses that help drive the local economy. Jenny Young, a senior business management major from Mechanicsville, introduced the honorees, whose enterprises ran the gamut from running gear retailer to dentistry.
Young developed the list along with assistant professor of business and department chair Tom Scott. “We were looking for both entrepreneurs with established businesses that had been around for a long time and had become a true staple in the Lynchburg community and entrepreneurs who had recently started up and had been successful even in these tough economic times,” Young said.
Fostering innovation and entrepreneurship is an underlying tenet of Sweet Briar’s business program, which is grounded in the liberal arts. Partnering with local companies or agencies to provide students opportunities to work on real projects — while adding value — is part of the curriculum across disciplines.
Several such partnerships already exist. This semester Scott’s senior seminar students are doing marketing research and cost analysis for the Edison2 Very Light Car. In a related project, engineering students are designing the interior of Edison2’s next-generation VLC.
Another team of business seniors are analyzing the impact of implementing a “zero waste” policy in Lynchburg City and Amherst County public schools. And in January, the archaeology department began operating a materials lab for the engineering and surveying firm Hurt & Proffitt, which employs students to process artifacts recovered from job sites.
The dinner’s organizers used the occasion to thank the entrepreneurs the College is already working with, and to announce that, as Scott put it, “Sweet Briar is open for business.” But it was also to acknowledge the importance of entrepreneurial thinking and innovation in economic growth and progress.
If you go to a company like 3M or Apple you won’t find the innovation department behind a marked door, Scott said. You will find it is part of the institution’s fabric.
The lieutenant governor also spoke about innovation, and especially the role of small businesses in economic growth. Bolling, whom Gov. Bob McDonnell designated by executive order as the state’s Chief Jobs Creation Officer when he took office, described an aggressive economic expansion agenda that has had bipartisan support.
“One good thing that came out of the recession is that more people understand that business is not a bad thing and that profit is not a four-letter word,” Bolling said, drawing applause.
He said Virginia’s three-pronged approach has been reinvesting in proven economic development programs, recruiting new business and developing existing ones. Part of the equation is ensuring that companies already headquartered here also expand here. He cited examples, including Fairfax-based ICF International, which recently selected Martinsville over several competing states to open its new operations center.
The center will bring more than 500 jobs to a struggling community. Most job gains, however, number 20 here and 40 there. “We’ll take that all day long, because small employers are the backbone of our economy,” Bolling said, noting that small businesses account for 70 percent of employment in Virginia today.
He described several initiatives that are part of the governor’s 2011 Opportunity at Work legislative agenda, which focuses on reinvigorating Virginia’s “innovation economy.” Once a technology leader, the commonwealth had fallen behind in recent years, Bolling said.
The agenda includes $10 million for the Commercialization and Research Fund and $5 million for a new Research and Development Tax Credit. According to a release from the governor’s office, the tax credit is for “start ups and early-stage firms in targeted industries, especially those companies accessing research and development services through Virginia colleges and universities to strengthen our business competitiveness.”
Other initiatives include developing tourism through grants and marketing, tax credits and increases to the Governor’s Motion Picture Opportunity Fund. Regarding the latter, Bolling alluded to a major announcement coming in the next few weeks, but said he couldn’t elaborate.
Increased funding for the Small Business Financing Authority and the Department of Business Assistance, the leading small business agency in the state, are also ways the government is creating an environment where private businesses can employ more people, Bolling said. He again drew applause when he noted a plan to eliminate the Accelerated Sales Tax for a majority of small businesses.
The entrepreneur dinner on April 21 was an outgrowth of the business department’s Salt Block Project, a conference held the preceding Saturday that offered a series of workshops for students led by successful entrepreneurs and business professionals. The Salt Block Project is the second iteration of what began last year as the first Conference on Innovation, Entrepreneurship and the Liberal Arts.
The dinner was sponsored by the Lynchburg Office of Economic Development, Lynchburg Economic Development Authority, Region 2000 and the Sweet Briar Lectures and Events Committee. In addition to Young, it was organized by Kate Gorman ’11, Kristen Anderson ’11, Laura Mooza ’12, Rachel Kaniss ’12 and assistant professor of business Tom Loftus.
The following individuals received certificates of recognition:
Jennie Allman of Oakwood Country Club
Dereck Cunningham of Lynchburg Grows
Jeff Fedoroko of Riverside Runners
Billy Flint of Flint Property Group
Caskie Giles of Blue Ridge Mortgage
Jerry Godsey of Small Business Owners’ Alliance
Dr. William Martin of William D. Martin DDS, MASD General Dentistry
David Nelles of Nelles Insurance Solutions
Dick Schoew of Hopkins Brothers Realty
Jason Shoemaker of the Shoemaker Law Firm
Ben Updike and Bruce Updike of BSW Waste Solutions
Angie Scott of Woodruff Store Cafe and Pie Shop