Venture Local conference focuses on local business movement

More than 100 entrepreneurs and investors gathered Thursday, Oct. 27, for Venture Local, a business conference dedicated to the growing local business movement. Hosted by the Blue Ridge Entrepreneurial Council, the forum brought business people from across the region and speakers from across the nation to the Asheville Renaissance Hotel.

Panelists discussed varied topics from the economic downturn to the Occupy Wall Street movement, but the central focus was Asheville’s business culture of local, sustainable, and social enterprise.

“I think we are getting close to a tipping point,” organizer Matt Raker said of the local business movement. “We’ve got so many great success stories, where this really can broaden out and be a great job creation engine across our region.  Having a vibrant local economy is a crucial area in being able to generate quality jobs.”

Local presenters represented economic sectors from food to fuel, including farmers, bakers, manufacturers and technology-based entrepreneurs. Keynote local speaker Jenn Lapidus presented her company Carolina Ground as a case study in creative local economics. The company bridges the gaps between grain farmers, mills and bakers utilizing the L3C corporate status, she explained.

“The L3C is a new legal entity in North Carolina,” said Lapidus. “It’s a hybrid — mission-driven for-profit, basically.  We established a board made up of farmers and bakers so that we could hear the voice of both. I never realized that this aspect of it would be one of the most exciting things, but it really is.”

Ideas like the L3C status that can vitalize local start-ups were the focus of the first half of Venture Local’s agenda. A panel — made up of local entrepreneurs from bison farmers to fine furniture manufacturers — fielded questions from the packed room.

The forum also included presentations from representatives of national entrepreneurial organizations like the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies. BALLE spokesperson Christine Ageton told attendees that they were “part of a movement. …

Times are changing,” she continued. “The way we think about money is different. The lines are blurring between for-profit and nonprofit, and we are finding opportunities in those changes.”

The second half of the conference dealt with creative ways to fund local business endeavors. Erin Erenberg of the fundraising website discussed new funding opportunities in social networking.

“A successful entrepreneur is someone who greatly believes in what they are offering,” said Erenburg, adding that Asheville’s locally focused economy had impressed her because it is led by both “the head and the heart.”

Venture Local concluded with a farm-to-table reception, featuring local food from Carolina Bison, whose founder Dr. Frank King was one of the panelists, the Market Place Restaurant, Buchi and Wedge Brewing Company.


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