While Asheville is first and foremost a tourism city, there’s a strong undercurrent of innovation that has been growing here. People love local products and local art, and over time, we’ve been growing the entrepreneurship/small business sector as well.
I believe that a big driver behind this is the major growth the city has seen in the past three years. Many people whose work has become permanently remote or who recently started their own business have opted to move to Asheville – if you can work from anywhere, why not somewhere so beautiful and exciting?
The local business community recognizes that a rising tide of new businesses can lift other boats, bringing good jobs to the region, so many organizations are invested in helping new businesses thrive in Asheville.
That being said, the initiation of a new business or entrepreneurial effort can be challenging, especially if you don’t have experience in the world of business beforehand. It can also require some startup capital, which not everyone has readily at hand. Here are some resources in the Asheville area that are a great option for those who want to be their own boss or bring a product or service to market!
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1. Do Your Research With the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce Business Directory
The Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce offers incredible opportunities to its members, but if you’re not quite ready to join as you launch your new venture, you can still make use of a very helpful resource. The Business Directory can help you identify where other similar businesses are located, what is already on the market in town, and potential vendors and partners that you’ll want to work with during your initial months and years as a small business.
Whether you know a potential partner’s name and just want to search for it, or you choose to evaluate the list of categories and find, for example, all the specialty and trade contractors who are listed in the business directory, you’ll have an easy path to the early parts of your research and a way to start your initial contacts and networking.
Each listing features information like an address, a phone number, a website, a description, and even a logo. Once your own business is up and running, joining the Chamber is a great way to get your own company visibility on this page.
2. Research Team Requests Can Help You Get Started
One incredibly cool component of the Asheville Chamber of Commerce is Riverbird Research, a division that focuses on really understanding the detailed numbers of how the economy is doing in Western NC. With online resources on things like Asheville’s Economic Indicators, you can start to answer questions like, “Will it be hard to find the employees I need for this business?” and “What is the state of commercial real estate rent in Asheville?”
When you narrow in on particular research needs, the team at the Chamber of Commerce may be able to generate custom reports or direct you to existing information that can help you find what you need to make a compelling case for your business in your business plan and pitch.
3. Get the Right Start at the AB Tech Small Business Center
At Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College at Enka, you’ll find the Small Business Center, a part of a state-wide small business center network. They want to help those who are early-stage or startup business owners to avoid any small errors that could end up jeopardizing their business, and on the other hand, offer them resources that could help them succeed faster.
From the start, you can sign up for Startup Asheville, a business portal that offers a variety of web resources, like online training and advice videos, and they have a great new business checklist that helps you immediately understand the processes for incorporating, making a business plan, or getting training.
AB Tech is also home to a Business Incubation program, which brings multiple new businesses together and offers affordable office and lab space, as well as light manufacturing, all while creating a cohort atmosphere where you can bounce ideas off your fellow entrepreneurs. To learn more about what features of the AB-Tech Small Business Center could be helpful to your efforts, explore their website.
4. Work with a Counselor Through SBTDC
The Small Business and Technology Development Center is a resource every entrepreneur should know about. This is a business advisory service offering specialized counseling that can help you when you’re launching a small or medium-sized business or even while you’re already in the thick of running it.
The counselors who work for the SBTDC are trained to help you do a check-up on your business and identify areas where you could improve and make your business shine.
From recognizing when a business might need to raise some capital to be able to flourish to building a clear understanding of new potential markets to managing your finances and finding cost-saving opportunities, these counselors offer many of their services free of charge, and they may have a wide array of suggestions for making your business even better.
5. Want Access to Growth and Capital? Consider Venture Asheville
Asheville’s had a joke in the past that you can move here if you “BYOJ,” or “Bring Your Own Job.” Creating excellent companies that are rooted in this community and also have many jobs available is a long-term goal of the region, and Venture Asheville encourages great startup companies to find a mentor, use their networks to access financing, and hold events that give new visibility to great companies, moving them along in their growth.
If your company is currently small and bootstrapped using only your capital, but you want to be a larger operation with multiple employees and a wider reach, learning about Venture Asheville’s events and starting the process could help you to build a business plan and pitch that shows potential investors and financers a path for sustainable growth that would return a good profit on their investment – and can help you create jobs here in the Asheville area!
6. Get Inspired at Asheville Entrepreneurship Week
An example of a great place to find your passion and learn more about all the growth around you is Asheville Entrepreneurship Week. This ever-evolving event showcases all the excitement in the startup scene in Asheville, with various incubators and effective startups sharing their successes in show-and-tell explanations, as well as social time to connect with and help each other.
There’s even educational and pitching events that allow you to continue to get the word out about your own idea. While active entrepreneurs certainly participate in these events, I find that I get very inspired as a non-entrepreneur when I see the stories of others.
If you’re on the fence about starting a company, this week’s events might be just the thing to get your creative juices flowing on how to launch your own unique venture. While the specific events change from year to year, look for information about events to come in early September.
7. Network at 1 Million Cups Asheville
The concept behind 1 Million Cups Asheville is rather simple: a community of entrepreneurs gathers weekly and listens to business ideas from the group. The group then learns how this business needs support, either through new customers or business contacts or other needs, and the rest of your community offers constructive feedback on making your “pitch” even better, helping you convey exactly what is so exciting about your business.
You don’t have to share your pitch the first time you go, and once you’ve attended for a while, you can apply to present and show everyone what you have. At the same time, you can be a resource to others who are working to get started, forming valuable connections as you work to make your own business a success.
The organizers are first and foremost interested in creating supportive spaces where entrepreneurs and business professionals can receive valuable education and connection.
8. Grow the Sustainable Way With Accelerating Appalachia
Business accelerators have a reputation for moving fast in ways that create exciting momentum for the companies they work with. The goal is to remove as many barriers to growth as possible and get companies from idea to viability very quickly.
Accelerating Appalachia, a business accelerator in Central/Southern Appalachia and the rural South, is putting its own twist on the accelerator idea by specifically working with agriculture-based businesses (like farmers and growers, but also others) to help businesses that care about regenerative practices that create food, fiber, and forest businesses that can stand the test of time without harming the natural ecosystems upon which they depend.
While this program isn’t necessarily right for every kind of business, those who want to do farming and agricultural products in a way that is kind to the Earth may find valuable resources and even incentives through grant programs!
9. Explore Grants Through NC IDEA
NC IDEA is a granting organization that recognizes that when great ideas are shepherded through the sometimes-tumultuous early months and years of business launch, they can create an incredible impact on the North Carolina community. They first offer resources through a program called NC IDEA LABS, perfect for refining a starting idea before you launch a business.
For startups that have been launched, NC IDEA MICRO offers $10,000 grants for specific projects that young companies need to complete to start reaching the next level as a company – if awarded, it comes with a 6-8 week program to help you make the best use of your funds.
NC IDEA SEED is a $50,000 grant for more established startups that want to use the money to grow their business and can make a case for why this money will make a major impact leading to big milestones over time. In any case, even applying for such funding can be an amazing way to boil down your goals moving forward and see incredible growth as a result.
10. Pitch For Funding From Asheville Angels
Another group through Venture Asheville is the Asheville Angels investor network. Angel investors are investors who choose to give a certain amount of money to a startup or other business in exchange for some portion of the ownership of the company. If the company grows a lot and goes public or is sold, the Angel investors receive a strong return on investment.
Here in Asheville, a group of around 40 investors network with each other and listen to pitches of promising companies with the goal of finding startups that are likely to see a lot of success. To date, they’ve invested more than $2 million in 25 companies!
There is no pool of money or group decision, but rather individual investors may opt to invest in any of the companies they hear from. To learn more about what kind of companies they are looking to invest in, review their website.
11. Find Opportunities for Every Stage at Mountain BizWorks
Mountain BizWorks is a real treasure trove of virtual classes and other resources that can help you get off to the right start but also check in throughout the life of your business to find new ways to level up. Workshops like Financial Tools, Foundations of Business Planning, Intro to QuickBooks, Marketing and Branding, and classes on Self-Employment all help you zero in on the details you need to keep your business in good working order.
Mountain BizWorks also has a business loan program designed to help you grow as a business since this organization is local and wants to see a high-quality, diverse economy in Western NC.
These loans are powered by loan capital from local impact investors: investors receive a small return on their money through the loan interest from local businesses, but more importantly, their money can support countless businesses as it is loaned out, paid back, and loaned out again, helping businesses get off the ground. It’s a very cool model that is well worth reading more about!
12. Get SBA Loans and More Through Self-Help Credit Union
The Small Business Administration works with small and large lenders throughout the country to offer federally supported loan programs called SBA Loans. These loans recognize that the bar to receive a traditional business loan can be high, and new businesses often don’t have the capital or collateral to secure those loans.
Applying for an SBA Loan through a local lender like Self-Help Credit Union may be an effective way to get the capital you need before you have a traditional loan’s level of collateral or valuation, jumpstarting your business and letting you purchase inventory, pay the initial staff, or pay the rent on a commercial property.
All of these expenses give you the opportunity to get your customer base established, your operations smooth, and a great cash flow going in time to pay back your loan while making your revenue numbers. When you have a clear idea of what money could do to help you get your business ready for full production, a small business loan through a credit union can be an affordable and attainable way to get that capital.
13. Explore the Entrepreneurial Leadership Program at Mars Hill
Maybe you’re not sure what you want to start yet, but you know that it is very appealing to be your own boss, bring your own idea to market, and build a business from the ground up. One way to get a solid footing is to explore a college degree program like the Entrepreneurial Leadership program at Mars Hill.
It’s a concentration within a Business Administration major – or a minor you can take while studying other things. With courses like New Venture Startup, Entrepreneurial Strategy, and Experiential Consulting, you practice the exact kind of real-world problem-solving you’ll need to do when you’re out launching your first business.
One neat portion of this program is that the school proactively connects you with other local businesses, particularly those in the sector that you’re interested in, so that you can begin networking, consider doing internships, and tour their businesses. It’s a chance to both study the theory behind launching a business while also building a real-world understanding that will prove invaluable when you launch.
14. Understand What Chamber of Commerce Membership Does For You
It’s possible that, as a solo entrepreneur or freelancer, you aren’t going to be the perfect fit for a Chamber membership, but in many cases, entrepreneurs find that the benefits far outweigh the costs associated with membership. Here are just a few of the ways membership helps you:
- Your listing in the Chamber’s online directory and your brochure placement in the Asheville Visitor Center increase your visibility immediately.
- Monthly networking events and business referrals keep you connected to the local business community.
- If you hold a grand opening or a big milestone, the Chamber will organize a Ribbon Cutting ceremony.
- You get a chance to meet and speak with elected officials, as well as understand where your voice can be heard in local politics.
- You’ll get a job posting opportunity on WNC Talent Job Board, making it easier to connect with highly qualified locals who are also looking for jobs.
- Use Asheville magazines to share with clients and showcase all that is going on in our region.
Some levels of membership include additional perks, like conference room usage, exclusive invites, research reports, digital promotion, and much more. It’s worth considering when you want your business front and center and when you want to get to know the other successful businesses around town.
Other Smart Moves as an Asheville Entrepreneur
- In pursuit of business networking, don’t forget to build your organic and friend network too! It’s a bit lonely to be bootstrapping the launch of a company, and you’ll bring more energy to the grind if you have good friends alongside you. Consider searching Asheville’s social media groups and Meetup.com groups to find a group where you have something in common with the others and get to know them purely for the pursuit of friendship.
- Consider the way your business is going to positively impact the community. Asheville, in particular, loves a business that gives back to the community, that protects the environment, or that treats its employees exceptionally well. Figure out your own values as a company owner and make them a big part of your mission – the Asheville community is far more likely to embrace you as a result.
- While many of the resources, grants, and loans in this area are intended for scaleable businesses that aim to generate a growing number of jobs, remember that lifestyle and small businesses don’t have to grow rapidly or at all. Be open to the possibility that your small business is at the perfect size with you and two part-time employees, for instance, and that you’d prefer to continue refining your great products and services rather than constantly trying to become a bigger company.
- If you’re considering launching a business but don’t have access to substantial capital, consider whether it’s a good fit for a “side hustle” business. Plenty of employees of other companies launch their business as a part-time effort during their nights and weekends to see how it goes before they take the leap of providing all their own income and health insurance. Working with a business coach or counselor could help you to create a reasonable set of milestones that, when achieved, might prompt you to go part-time with your current job and focus more on your side business. After that, you can decide whether you prefer a little stability long-term or would like to devote all your working hours to this business!
- While many businesses need a dedicated space from the beginning, some startups can get away with shared space for a while (Apple and other large companies have got their start in home garages!). One option that can sometimes be a good deal and a networking opportunity is to become members at a coworking space, renting a small private office while sharing amenities like bathrooms and breakrooms with other independent workers and entrepreneurs.