The participants of the 2020 CO.STARTERS entrepreneur class in Lynchburg are showing their dedication in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic by continuing to meet, even if not in person. As with many gatherings right now, their meetings have been shifted to a virtual format. Here’s how these aspiring business leaders are refusing to let the pandemic dampen their entrepreneurial spirit.
CO.STARTERS is a program of the Lynchburg Office of Economic Development and Tourism with the goal of preparing creative and ambitious entrepreneurs to launch and maintain small businesses. This is the fifth year of the program, and so far 115 entrepreneurs have graduated and gone on to begin their businesses. The class usually meets at Vector Space, a makerspace and community workshop in Downtown Lynchburg.
But now that “stay at home” orders have been issued, they have taken their work home with them. Facilitators Anthony Andrews and Jawansa Hall didn’t want to cancel the course, so they found a way to continue it online so the participants could learn as much as possible. Fortunately, they’ve been able to utilize the same tools that many other online learning platforms are using. With the video conferencing tool Zoom, they have taken their classroom and learning processes to the computer screen. The course’s learning materials are also now in a digital, shareable format rather than in print. This enables the group to follow along together with discussions and assignments.
“We really looked forward to meeting with our participants in-person and providing that classroom interaction. And even though it may have felt a bit of a disappointment initially, we quickly embraced this new way of teaching and we have been more than blessed to have our participants continue with us on this journey,” said Andrews.
The experience of learning entrepreneurship skills in this virtual format is still remarkably similar to how it was before. Thanks to their adaptability and the accessibility of the tools they need, this year’s students have been able to maintain a seamless learning experience. They are keeping the same routines, beginning the meeting with an overview of their work in the past week, then breaking into smaller groups in separate video chat rooms to discuss questions and analyze the curriculum they’ve been given.
Even the ability to have a guest speaker every week has been maintained. The speaker can join the Zoom chat and teach the class about the week’s topic, which could be marketing, cost analysis, knowing the customer and many others.
“Subtle changes and accommodations have been made,” Andrews said. “We have had to teach with more energy, create virtual breakout rooms for our participants, play songs from Spotify during our five minute breaks, and adjust to the etiquette of using a ‘mute’ button when we aren’t speaking.”
The Challenges of Business
The participants of this year’s CO.STARTERS cohort are getting a rather unique experience. Small businesses have experienced difficulties as a result of COVID-19 social distancing regulations, and this crisis has given this CO.STARTERS cohort an opportunity to learn in real-time how to manage a business and solve problems in the midst of a challenging situation. While some in the cohort have not yet launched their business and have therefore not been affected like current small businesses have been, these entrepreneurs are learning in a real-life scenario that they must prepare for the unexpected if they want to be successful. The current situation has encouraged the participants to think about selling online, meeting virtually with clients, and promoting their business online through their website and social media.
We look forward to seeing the results of these participants’ work when they graduate CO.STARTERS in May, and we’re proud of their tenacity and willingness to stick with the program in the midst of these difficult times.