With $115K boost, new program aims to grow businesses, fill vacant storefronts in downtown Lynchburg – Lynchburg News and Advance

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The Downtown Lynchburg Association has received $115,000 toward a new program that seeks to fill vacant storefronts and provide current and potential small business owners with funding to start or expand a business in downtown Lynchburg.
Gov. Glenn Youngkin recently announced $90,000 in Community Business Launch grant funding to DLA for the program. The nonprofit was one of only three entities in Virginia to receive this funding in 2022. The Lovingston Community Business Launch in Nelson County and the Waynesboro Economic Development Authority each received $45,000.
“Downtown Lynchburg is an excellent place to do business. We have beautiful storefronts ready and waiting to become shops, galleries, restaurants, venues, and more,” DLA Executive Director Ashley Kershner said in a news release. “We know this city is full of talented people with big ideas and a lot of creativity. With this project, we will give them the boost they need to turn their dreams into reality.”
Launch LYH will begin in early 2023, and the program guidelines and applications will be posted on the DLA website, downtownlynchburg.com. Selected applicants will participate in a 6-week education program by the Lynchburg Regional Small Business Development Center. Classes will cover a variety of business concepts, including startup basics, trends, pricing, marketing, branding, finance, business plan development, hiring and more.
Stephanie Keener, executive director of the Small Business Development Center — Lynchburg Region (SBDC), said the organization is excited to be a partner in the program.
“One of the strengths of the SBDC is creating specialized training for our small business community. We are looking forward to developing a program that can not only help our businesses be more successful, but that respects the diversity and special needs of Downtown businesses,” she said in an interview with The News & Advance.
At the end of the course, participants will pitch their business concepts to a panel of judges. Selected winners will be awarded grants ranging from $5,000 to $25,000 to be used for start-up costs for their new or expanded downtown Lynchburg business. At least $25,000 of available grant funds will go to minority-owned businesses.
“We believe that a part of creating a strong, welcoming, and vibrant downtown is working to create opportunities for a diverse range of businesses and business owners,” Kershner said. “With Launch LYH, we will not only enrich our downtown with new businesses, but we will also provide new opportunities for those who may previously [have] had barriers to access. In addition, we want to help foster a business owner community that more closely reflects the community we serve.”
Winners will receive a prize package that includes business membership and mentorship; consulting services for build-out; banking assistance; website design; site selection; and various other business development services.
Another goal of the project is to reduce storefront vacancies in downtown Lynchburg, a primary focus of DLA’s 2023 Strategic Plan. Fifteen available properties already have been identified in downtown as potential locations for competition winners, and many property owners are partnering with DLA on this project.
DLA also was awarded a $25,000 grant from the Truist Foundation for Launch LYH, as a part of their $120 million commitment to strengthen and support small businesses, focusing on minority- and women-owned businesses.
The City of Lynchburg was last awarded a Community Business Launch grant in 2015 to launch the CO.STARTERS program and hosted a formal pitch competition to fill storefronts across the city. Now in its sixth year and in partnership with the Small Business Development Center, CO.STARTERS has graduated more than 100 small businesses. CO.STARTERS is a 10-week, cohort-based program that equips aspiring entrepreneurs with the tools needed to launch their businesses.
“We have a proven track record of working with Community Business Launch to start and grow small businesses in the City of Lynchburg, such as Golf Park Coffee Co., Mrs. Joy’s Absolutely Fabulous Treats, Good Karma Tea Co. and Hill City Hardwoods,” Marjette Upshur, director of economic development & tourism for the City of Lynchburg, said in the release. “Our office stands ready to work alongside our community partners to support diverse, vibrant businesses and fill spaces in Downtown Lynchburg.”
This most recent CBL award aligns with the city’s Economic Development & Tourism strategic action plan goals to “implement a business expansion and support program” and “nurture a startup ecosystem and position the City of Lynchburg as an entrepreneurial hub.”
“We are particularly excited about the focus [on] minority entrepreneurs, as we want to ensure that all Lynchburg’s residents have access to the tools and resources they need to become entrepreneurs,” Upshur said.
Additional partnership and support comes from the Bank of the James, Jamerson-Lewis Construction, Lynchburg’s Office of Economic Development and Tourism, the Small Business Development Center, the Lynchburg Regional Business Alliance and Consensus Real Estate.

“With Launch LYH, we will not only enrich our downtown with new businesses, but we will also provide new opportunities for those who may previously [have] had barriers to access. In addition, we want to help foster a business owner community that more closely reflects the community we serve.”
Ashley Kershner, Downtown Lynchburg Association executive director
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