Village Launch Builds Resilience Among Under-Resourced Entrepreneurs
As the City of Greenville, South Carolina experiences unprecedented growth, Village Launch ensures its more vulnerable populations aren't left behind. The city of Greenville is changing.
In up-and-coming cities, economic development too often serves the privileged in a community while overlooking the vulnerable.
Village Launch takes on the task of economic development at the household level, working with other local organizations to offer entrepreneurial education, financial coaching, and microloans.
Four years later, Village Launch has supported over 60 small businesses in the Greenville area. Their entrepreneurs, 85 percent of whom are women, are providing jobs and fostering a resilient community within a changing city.
Long-time Greenville residents can remember a time not long ago when people avoided the downtown. Now, the downtown is the center of attention—arguably to the detriment of some of the city’s residents.
Greenville’s rise to prominence brings with it a set of challenges—particularly for the city’s under-resourced households. When a city receives the kind of attention and investment that Greenville is seeing, rises in local rent are not uncommon. The price for a cleaner, more popular, and more tourist friendly city can be quite burdensome for some families, making policy advocacy and community development essential practices to ensure those already struggling don’t fall further behind.
Village Launch believes that economic development isn’t just a community-wide endeavor, but that economic development can also happen at the household level—in fact, it must happen there if residents of a city like Greenville are to survive gentrification and rapid development.
An applicable and immediately helpful form of household-level economic development is job-training, especially entrepreneurial education.
“There are several entrepreneurial programs in the area,” explained Jeanette Brewster, Program Coordinator at Village Launch, “but none like ours. Nothing touching the ultra-small business, the just-getting-started side-hustlers.”
While this gap in Greenville’s entrepreneurial support was leaving out early-stage entrepreneurs of all tribes, it was especially failing Greenville’s underserved neighborhoods—the same families and entrepreneurs who suffer the fallout from Greenville’s push for high growth and big business.
Village Launch’s solution is a combination of entry-level entrepreneurial training and financial support. Competence, confidence, and cash are the basic ingredients of a startup; Village Launch wants to ensure that Greenville residents have all three.
To achieve this goal, Village Launch partners with Community Works, a Greenville CDFI that offers financial coaching and business microloans. “The coaching piece is important,” said Jeanette. “Lots of entrepreneurs don’t know what they actually need, so they take out too large a loan. Sometimes you only need $2,000 when you think you need $10,000.”
For their entrepreneurship development service, Village Launch turned to CO.STARTERS.
14 cohorts and 60 CO.STARTERS graduates later, Village Launch is witnessing growth and real promise in the community’s entrepreneurial enthusiasm. From dessert food trucks to life coaches, cleaning services to five-star catering, Greenville’s small business community is proving resilient as the city’s leaders pursue high-growth tech and finance companies.
For Jeanette, Village Launch’s services are personal. As a professional photographer and brand consultant, she found it difficult to get help for her business before discovering local help. “I didn’t know any of these support tools existed until I went through the CO.STARTERS program myself,” she shared.
“There are several entrepreneurial programs in the area, but none like ours. Nothing touching the ultra-small business, the just-getting-started side-hustlers.” – Jeanette Brewster
Jeanette isn’t the only one who has benefitted from Village Launch, CO.STARTERS, and Community Works. A growing network of over one-hundred entrepreneurs is taking advantage of the new entrepreneurship programming for early-stage entrepreneurs.
One such starter, Bridgitte Cleveland, joined the CO.STARTERS program (known as Business Entrepreneur Academy to the Greenville community), looking for help getting her cleaning business off the ground. At first, Bridgitte felt like quitting the program, but persevered with the help of Village Launch: “Their love and passion for people to succeed and grow were unmatched. And that’s what made me show up each week.”
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