I have moved quite a bit since high school. Short stints in Thailand, Fiji, Ireland and all over Germany followed longer stays across Australia, France and the United States.
In the summer of 2014, I suddenly found myself in an unassuming mid-sized Southern city called Richmond. My fallback plan was the proximity to a “real city”, D.C. but the deeper I dove into RVA’s community, the more I realized that there was more activity than met the eye. After a somewhat anonymous life in Hamburg, Germany (we aren’t the most sociable people), I was humbled that people like Larkin Garbee (what kind of name was that?) and Todd Nuckols agreed on the spot to meet so I could learn more about the local startup scene. Not only did they take the time to sit down with me — a total stranger — but they offered to make introductions and help me find my way around Richmond’s startup scene. What followed were countless cups of coffee with people like Paul Nolde (New Richmond Ventures), Nicky Colomb (VCU), Michael Pirron (Impact Makers) and many others. They all of took the time to meet and share with me what they saw happening in Richmond, what their vision was for our city, and what needed to happen to make this vision a reality.
And Larkin Garbee is an awesome name. I know that now.
As I am once again packing up to start my next adventure, I can’t help but look back at the last three and a half years in appreciation and gratitude for all the people I have met, lessons I learned, and the friends I have made.
The first startup I worked with in Richmond was TaTaTopper. Within a few months we raised $ 40,000 on Indiegogo to pay for their first product line. I have fond memories of all three startup cohorts at Lighthouse Labs who I had the pleasure to work with. We celebrated demo day on 17th Street in a torrential downpour that flooded the street under our feet and temporarily left us without power (2015). We saw pitches and heard Alumni stories over RVA’s rooftops at the Hofheimer building (2016), hosted small investor dinners at Urban Roost and pitched to our partners at Capital One (2017). In a bus that had us all feel like back in high school we went on investor roadshows to Northern Virginia, Raleigh and Norfolk.
It warms my heart to look back on RVA BiscuitLove, a pop-up restaurant in Monroe Park serving the homeless on Valentine’s Day 2016. After months of planning we woke up to six degrees Fahrenheit that February morning. And still, more than fifty volunteers showed up, additional food donations came out of nowhere and we distributed dozens of winter coats, sweaters, boots and hygiene kits.
I am forever indebted to some incredible people who helped me launch programs and events for purpose-driven entrepreneurs here in Richmond. Together with Larkin Garbee (cool name, eh?) and Stephanie Hepp, I ran Virginia’s first mini-accelerator for social entrepreneurs, Unreasonable Lab VA (read more here). Michael Pirron created a position for me at Impact Makers to strengthen and grow the local B Corp community. To support more early-stage entrepreneurs in Central Virginia, Larkin and I went on to run a total of three cohorts of Co.Starters VA — both for high-growth and main street companies with the help of Jennifer Einolf (Bold Whisper), Jennifer Tompkins (SignScapes) and Vida Williams. Thank you!
I am grateful to Jennifer Stern and Corky Ford for helping me put on internship programs at Impact Makers and hosting RVA Women’s Day in 2017.
Thank you Nicky Monk, Lacy Spott, Dominic Costanzo and Mac Gambill for allowing me to work with students at the VCU pre-accelerator!
Todd Nuckols, thank you for introducing me to the world of GAN when we barely knew each other and looping me into Lighthouse Labs — I learned a lot about community building from your approach to leadership and stakeholder relationships. Thank you for your endless generosity.
And thank you Shannon Siriano for pushing me out of my comfort zone and launching Rebelle Con — a three-day conference for entrepreneurial women here in Richmond. It exceeded my wildest dreams and I still pinch myself sometimes knowing that we created something so unique and powerful.
As I am embarking on this new adventure I am equally excited and sad to leave. But most of all, I am hopeful. Earlier this week I went to 1717 for a one-hour meeting and ended up spending more than three hours catching up with founders, many of which have become friends over the years. Since I first arrived in Richmond, I have seen a growing number of startups and small businesses whose goal is not only to build profitable companies but to create value for our community and its most vulnerable members. I am excited to witness movements like Creative Mornings, Girls for a Change, B Corps, Coffee with Strangers, Bossbabes and Mindful Mornings infuse our city with purpose and innovation. And if I could leave Richmond with one piece of advice (and I will because I can’t help myself), this would be it:
Support each other. Leave your ego at the door. If you are not contributing to the greater good of our city, take yourself out of the equation and deploy your skills elsewhere. What unites is the desire to see our city strive and excel, embrace diversity and create a more inclusive and equitable community. With this common goal front and center, support each other in what each of you does best. Collaboration over competition.