RISE Collaborative Announces 2024 RISE Business Pitch Competition Winners

$12,000 in prize funds awarded to Southern Virginia entrepreneurs and business owners

RISE Collaborative hosted its 2nd annual regional RISE Business Pitch Competition on June 26, 2024, from 2:00 pm to 5:30 pm at the Southern Virginia Higher Education Center in South Boston, Virginia. The event featured five businesses competing in either the Startup or Scale-Up categories, for a chance to win a cash prize of $500 to $5,000. The competition featured a fast-paced format, with each team having five minutes to pitch their business and another five minutes for questions from the judges.

An awards event was held virtually on June 27, 2024, at 6:00pm to announce the winners. Each of the five Southern Virginia businesses and entrepreneurs that pitched were awarded a prize. The prize funds included $10,500 divided among the winning businesses in the Startup and Growth categories. A total of $1,500 was awarded from the SOVA Female Founders Fund for Women-Owned Businesses.

RISE Collaborative recognizes the contribution of the judges, who gave their time and expertise to support this regional entrepreneurial ecosystem event.

Judges were tasked with the evaluation of each of the competitors’ business plans, financial statements, and in-person pitch presentations. Priority was given to businesses whose application materials and pitch demonstrated customer-market fit, financial feasibility, and potential to impact the Southern Virginia regional economy.
The panel of judges for this event included:
  • Dr. Julie Brown (Vice President of Advanced Learning at IALR and Co-Owner of 2 Witches Winery and Brewing Company in Danville, VA); 
  • Morgan Clark (Founder & Lead Consultant of Epstein Clark Consulting in Danville, VA);
  • Steve Creedle (SVP/Chief Lending Officer at Benchmark Community Bank in South Hill, VA); 
  • Stephen Davis (President of Community Investment Collaborative (CIC) in Charlottesville, VA); and
  • Ruby Reid-Cunningham (Owner of Valhalla Organics in Vernon Hill (Halifax), VA)

Mentors also play a key part in the program. Longwood Small Business Development Center (SBDC) consultants served as mentors for the entrepreneurs who participated in this RISE event.

Businesses that pitched at the June 26th event included:
Josh Blancas, The Ground Floor

Josh Blancas


The Ground Floor
Community-focused coffee shop and restaurant in Martinsville, VA

Devin Crisman, The Cottage Barn

Devin Crisman


The Cottage Barn
Ice cream shop and retail store in Clarksville, VA

Terence Carter, The Gift Design Company

Terence Carter


The Gift Design Company
Gift company based in Martinsville, VA providing personalized products worldwide for businesses and individuals
Lauren Parks, Danville Massage Therapy Associates

Lauren Parks


Danville Massage Therapy Associates
Professional massage therapy and wellness services in Danville, VA
Tiffany Ferrell, CAREfully Anchored C.A.R.E. Academy

Tiffany Ferrell


CAREfully Anchored C.A.R.E. Academy
Resource for caregivers that will offer educational trainings, resources, and community support; C.A.R.E. Academy is a new product/service by CAREfully Anchored

2024 RISE Business Pitch Competition Winners

Scale-Up Category

The Scale-Up category included existing businesses that demonstrated a concept that would scale their business. Each of the businesses that pitched in this category is already established with customer relationships, suppliers, and marketing strategies.

Ruby Reid, Valhalla Organics

A grant of $5,000 was awarded to The Ground Floor (Josh Blancas) to grow their coffee shop in Martinsville, VA. Their vision is to be a gathering place where all people feel welcomed, loved, and valued. They strive to provide the highest quality beverages and food in an atmosphere that feels like home. The Ground Floor plans to use the winnings to help purchase a second oven to keep up with the demand of food orders.

A grant of $2,500 was awarded to The Cottage Barn (Devin Crisman). The Cottage Barn is an ice cream shop and retail store located in Clarksville, VA. As the first building in the downtown section of Clarksville, The Cottage Barn plans to use the winnings to upgrade the building exterior to bring more visibility to her business as well as benefit placemaking efforts in the town.

A grant of $1,500 was awarded to The Gift Design Company (Terence Carter). The Gift Design Company is a gift company located in Martinsville specializing in small business manufacturing, personalization & engraving services, promotional products, and branded merchandise. The Gift Design Company plans to use the winnings to assist in the purchase of a larger laser engraver to increase production opportunities.

A grant of $1,000 was awarded to Danville Massage Therapy Associates (Lauren Parks). Danville Massage Therapy Associates provides professional massage therapy and wellness services for clients in the Danville area. She plans to use the winnings to purchase an electric lift massage table to better serve clients with mobility concerns.

Startup Category

The Startup category includes businesses that are very early in their process of becoming established and launching.

CAREfully Anchored (Tiffany Ferrell) was awarded a grant of $500 to further plans to start the C.A.R.E. Academy, a resource for caregivers offering educational training, resources, and community support.

>We extend congratulations to all the participants of this year’s pitch competition,” said Lauren Mathena of the SOVA Innovation Hub. “Their creativity, dedication, and entrepreneurial spirit is truly inspiring. We are thrilled to celebrate their successes and commend their hard work. We look forward to seeing the remarkable impact they will make in our region and their communities.”

SOVA Female Founders Fund for Women-Owned Businesses

The SOVA Female Founders Fund for Women-Owned Businesses was created with the intention to provide additional support and encouragement to female entrepreneurs who demonstrated perseverance and grit in pursuing their vision. Winners of this category included C.A.R.E. Academy by CAREfully Anchored (Tiffany Ferrell), The Cottage Barn (Devin Crisman) and Danville Massage Therapy Associates (Lauren Parks), who each received a $500 grant in addition to their Scale-up or Startup grants.

“As a female founder, I believe in the power of women to transform their communities and drive economic growth,” said Ilsa Loeser, Founder & Principal of Letterpress Communications and founding member of the SOVA Female Founders Fund. “The mission of the fund is to support and uplift women entrepreneurs, providing them with the resources and opportunities they need to thrive. By investing in women-owned businesses, we are investing in a brighter, more inclusive future for Southern Virginia.”

The event was held at the Southern Virginia Higher Education Center (SVHEC), a partner of RISE Collaborative.

“The Southern Virginia Higher Education Center is proud to partner with the RISE Collaborative to support entrepreneurship in southern Virginia,” said Hope Harris-Gayles, SVHEC Director of Communications, Outreach, and Employee Relations. “Efforts like the Business Pitch Competition play an important role in supporting and nurturing the small business community and providing entrepreneurs with access to capital to support their growth. We’re excited to build on this momentum by expanding our Work-Based Learning program for high school seniors to include an entrepreneurship track. This new program will introduce students to the fundamentals of entrepreneurship and match them with local small businesses so they can apply these skills in the real world.”

Natalie Hodge Davis of Rudy’s Girl Media served as emcee for the event. Photography for the event was provided by In-Depth Productions, and videography was provided by Remove the Cap Media.

RISE Collaborative’s next events include the Grapevine Monthly Virtual Meetup (August 15th on Zoom) and the RISE Regional Innovation Summit for Entrepreneurs (October 18-19 in Danville, VA). To find out more about RISE Collaborative’s upcoming events, resources, and how to get involved, go to www.sovarise.com.

About RISE Collaborative

RISE Collaborative is a regional initiative to create a network of entrepreneurs and business service providers across Southern Virginia (GO Virginia Region 3). The initiative is co-managed by two primary entities: Longwood Office of Community & Economic Development (Farmville, Va.), which includes the Longwood Small Business Development Center (serving the region) and SOVA Innovation Hub (South Boston, Va.). RISE Collaborative provides guidance to entrepreneurs and business owners through a number of ongoing programs every year, including a virtual business bootcamp, the RISE Navigator program, the regional Business Pitch Competition, and more. For more information, visit sovarise.com.

About Longwood SBDC

As a small business resource for 30 years, the Longwood Small Business Development Center’s (LSBDC) core mission is to provide education, consulting, and economic research to support potential and existing small business owners throughout Southern Virginia. The SBDC program at Longwood University is positioned as an economic development outreach program under the umbrella of the Office of Community and Economic Development. The center’s effectiveness is measured in the success of our clients. Results are measured in terms of client capital investment and jobs created. For more information, visit sbdc-longwood.com.

About SOVA Innovation Hub

The SOVA Innovation is a non-profit organization created to spark economic transformation in Southern Virginia. We bring together business and education partners to offer innovation programs that inspire people to pursue digital careers and entrepreneurship.

Our state-of-the-art building in South Boston, VA includes a coworking space, a training space, and the Microsoft Experience Center. To learn more visit sovainnovationhub.com.