The Behind-the-Scenes Empowerer: The Community Investment Collaborative

October 24, 2014


For the past few weeks, Iris Magazine has been introducing you to some of Charlottesville’s best and brightest female entrepreneurial minds. Fighting some pretty steep odds, these women have taken us through the highs and lows, the failures and successes, of their personal journeys of starting their own businesses. Although each woman and each idea are quite distinct, the common thread that unites all of these very different stories together is the group that has been cheering hardest for them on the sidelines: The Community Investment Collaborative (CIC).

In a world where the average-Joe-turned-sole-proprietor rarely stands a chance against corporate giants, CIC is an organization that works to empower and equip individuals to stand steady on their own two feet. CIC is a group started by Toan Nguyen of C’ville Coffee (a small business owner himself) that trains, mentors, finances and networks entrepreneurs in the greater Charlottesville area. They are able to accomplish this through a 17-week business training class where entrepreneurs come to learn everything, from how to set a market price to picking which brick-and-mortar front they’d like to house their first shop.

As a student and temporary-citizen of Charlottesville, I have always known that this city is a very special place. In this area, going to the Farmer’s Market is cool and actually do-able, and shopping from a natural foods store isn’t just a trend, but a regular practice. I thought that I had largely grasped and appreciated the unique marketplace that is the Charlottesville local economy, but it was only after interviewing the truly amazing and skilled women from The Happy Tomato, Charlottesville Ballet and Stevie G’s Gluten-free Bakery – all graduates of CIC’s business training program – that I began to understand that the entrepreneurial spirit is truly alive and kicking in this city. Talented, artful and ingenious people are in every pocket of Charlottesville. And they are where they are today only because organizations like CIC are providing incredible support while literally changing the face of business for local residents. After this graduating class, since 2012, CIC will have graduated more than 90 small-business owners. These individuals were once just people who had ideas about canning family memories in a home-style marinara sauce, or had only dreamed of building a dance studio from the ground up where boys and girls of all shapes and sizes could come to freely enjoy the beauty of dance. Thanks to CIC, these women are now profitable, respected and productive business owners who are strengthening our community in ways that we could not even begin to measure. These female entrepreneurs provide many positive social benefits as externalities to their business ideas and have contributed much to the city’s overall thriving.

I got to meet up with CIC’s Client Services Coordinator Waverly Davis to thank her in person for the work that CIC does for small-businesses in Charlottesville. She left me with a particularly insightful thought:

“It will be interesting to see what will come in the future as Charlottesville is just about built-out and developed to capacity. The next challenge for bright young minds is to get creative in fueling growth while working under these limitations.”

Waverly brought up this challenge the city is facing and it got me thinking… CIC has yet to train any students as entrepreneurs. Could one of us be the next CIC success story?

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