Original article published August 24, 2022 by Longwood University at https://www.longwood.edu/news/2022/new-innovation-hub/
In the coming years, these scenes will become typical in Farmville: college students from Longwood, Hampden-Sydney and Southside Virginia Community College sitting alongside business leaders and entrepreneurs, flexing their creative muscles as they design new products; community members and teachers taking leadership development and innovation courses; K-12 students learning entrepreneurial skills; and small-business owners networking and accessing resources to grow their businesses.
It will all happen downtown at the visionary new SEED Innovation Hub, the result of a partnership between education and business in the community—with financial backing at both the state and federal levels—that will offer much-needed support to growing small businesses in Southern Virginia.
Innovation hubs provide space for community members of all ages to work, learn, innovate, create and connect to entrepreneurship resources. The SEED Innovation Hub will serve Prince Edward and surrounding counties and will complement the SOVA Innovation Hub in South Boston, which was established in 2020.
SEED will be a creative intersection of partners, entrepreneurs, ideas and supportive programming for all ages, culminating in regional innovation and entrepreneurial opportunities for years to come.
Last week, the project was awarded nearly $2 million from the U.S. Economic Development Administration through the American Rescue Plan—putting in place the last piece of funding needed to begin construction. Planning for the project began in 2019, and previously announced funding includes $674,304 from GO Virginia, $500,000 from the Virginia Tobacco Region Revitalization Commission and $375,000 from the Longwood Real Estate Foundation. The project is a partnership between Longwood and Hampden-Sydney College.
“SEED Innovation Hub is the culmination of months of collaboration and regional strategy development between Longwood and our partners at GO Virginia Region 3, SOVA Innovation Hub and Hampden-Sydney College,” said Sheri McGuire, associate vice president for community and economic development and Small Business Development Center executive director. “SEED will be a creative intersection of partners, entrepreneurs, ideas and supportive programming for all ages, culminating in regional innovation and entrepreneurial opportunities for years to come.”
With federal funding in place, the SEED Innovation Hub will quickly take shape at Midtown Square in downtown Farmville, utilizing the currently vacant 10,000-square-foot space that was formerly occupied by Longwood’s Barnes & Noble Bookstore. Construction of the project is expected to be completed in 2023.
McGuire said they named the endeavor SEED because it seeks to plant seeds of innovation and it gives a nod to the agriculture-based economy of the area.
Once completed, the facility will connect residents of the Farmville area with resources to bolster business creation, innovation activities and workforce training in the greater Southside region. It will provide space for co-working, gathering, training and makerspace, as well as serve as a home for SBDC advising.
In a world of rapidly evolving technology and connectivity, it’s more possible than ever for average citizens to successfully build a product or service-based business.
The SEED Innovation Hub is envisioned as a business development accelerator and training ground for both entrepreneurs and students. It is expected to create 60 jobs, retain 159 jobs and generate nearly $5 million in private investment. The facility will be available for hosting community courses in entrepreneurship and innovation; SVCC workshops and camps for trades, technology and STEM; youth camps in innovative problem solving; professional development for teachers; leadership development and community problem solving; and collegiate innovation courses currently co-taught by Longwood and Hampden-Sydney faculty. Local K-12 schools will also be able to utilize the space.
A major component of the SEED Innovation Hub will be a collaborative atmosphere that allows students to pursue business ideas and product development alongside business leaders in the region, who have access to the kinds of equipment and software to see the idea to fruition. Already signed up is YakAttack, the kayaking and watersports equipment manufacturer. Luther Cifers, the founder and CEO of YakAttack, has offered to provide mentoring to students on product design and prototype manufacturing.
“In a world of rapidly evolving technology and connectivity, it’s more possible than ever for average citizens to successfully build a product or service-based business,” said Cifers. “The SEED Innovation Hub is a forward-thinking project that will empower students and community members alike to couple these advanced technologies with coaching and mentoring from business leaders who have already traveled a similar path. I’m very excited to see this idea turning into reality and cannot wait to celebrate our first success stories.”
With the SEED Innovation Hub taking root right off Main Street, we’ll be known around the region and the Mid-Atlantic as the place where the game of innovation is played for the benefit of all who enter our doors.
The Cormier Honors College for Citizen Scholars will be the lead on academic programming, much of which is already under way or under development and will easily shift to the more community-facing hub once it is complete. Key staff members involved in the planning of the project include Director of Innovation, Research and Entrepreneurship Brandon Hennessey, and faculty scholar and Director of Educational Innovation and Entrepreneurial Ecosystems Jacob Dolence. Both are currently teaching courses in entrepreneurship at Longwood and for the SBDC.
“For many people outside Farmville, the town is associated with a game on Facebook,” said Dr. Chris Kukk, Wilma Register Sharp and Marc Boyd Sharp Dean of the Honors College and professor of political science. “With the SEED Innovation Hub taking root right off Main Street, we’ll be known around the region and the Mid-Atlantic as the place where the game of innovation is played for the benefit of all who enter our doors.”
Hampden-Sydney is also an active partner in program development. Working cross-institutionally with Dr. Andrew King, director of H-SC’s Flemming Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, the team has developed and delivered curriculum to students of both institutions and to the community. The activity at the Innovation Hub will be a natural extension of the resources available at Hampden-Sydney’s Flemming Center.
“Innovators thrive when they’re working together on challenges,” King said. “The SEED Hub will be a place for our students and community members to share ideas, support one another and create fantastic new projects and ventures.”
GO Virginia, one of the other partners, is a business-led economic development initiative that supports programs to create more high-paying jobs in the region through incentivizing collaboration between business, education and government. GO Virginia Region 3 includes the cities of Danville and Martinsville and 13 counties across the Southside region.
“The Region 3 Council went through an almost two-year process to develop a strategy to support entrepreneurship and innovation in Region 3,” said Bryan David, program director for GO Virginia Region 3. “The strategy includes expansion of entrepreneurial programming and strategically connecting resources through current and future entrepreneurial centers located in Southern Virginia.”
Longwood’s Office of Community and Economic Development, including the SBDC, partnered with Mid-Atlantic Broadband Communities Corporation to help develop the strategy for GO Virginia Region 3 and partnered with the SOVA Innovation Hub to implement parts of the strategy.
“The keys to improving the health of our region include access and availability of innovative educational resources, coupled with a focus on diversifying our economy through scalable business opportunities,” McGuire said. “The SEED Innovation Hub will leverage the collective power and partnerships in our educational institutions to create a culture of innovation across all ages.”