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Sheri McGuire, executive director of Longwood University’s Small Business Development Center
Photo by Meridith De Avila Khan

Luther Cifers launched fishing equipment company YakAttack LLC in 2009 out of his friend’s basement, and he moved to the garage to create prototypes of its gear. Now, he is putting in work so future entrepreneurs will have a dedicated space for their projects.

The Farmville SEED Innovation Hub, slated to open in late fall, is a 10,000-square-foot business accelerator and training space that would replace a vacant Barnes & Noble book store in Midtown Square. Construction is pending approval from the U.S. Economic Development Administration to move forward with bidding.

“My vision for this thing is something that would have been useful for us in the early days,” says Cifers, whose background is in engineering and design.

A partnership between Longwood University and Hampden-Sydney College, SEED sprouted from a collaboration between Longwood’s Office of Economic and Community Development, GO Virginia and Mid-Atlantic Broadband Inc. on an entrepreneurship and innovation investment strategy in 2019. It is funded with $1.9 million from the federal American Rescue Plan Act, $674,304 from GO Virginia, $500,000 from the Virginia Tobacco Region Revitalization Commission and $375,000 from the Longwood Real Estate Foundation. The hub is expected to create 60 jobs, retain 159 jobs and generate about $5 million in private investment.

One of the gaps the groups identified in the region was the availability of entrepreneurial spaces that have makerspace capabilities, innovation labs and “tools and resources for everyone K through 12, on up to collegiate and community,” says Sheri McGuire, executive director of Longwood’s Small Business Development Center.

Among the hub’s offerings will be 3-D printers, entrepreneurial bootcamps, pitch competitions and idea summits. Other details, including how Cifers plans to help, are still in the works.

Farmville’s hub also will complement South Boston’s SOVA Innovation Hub, which opened in 2020 and offers a co-working space and has a makerspace in preliminary planning stages. Both facilities represent a change in the regions’ economic focus.

“If Southern Virginia is going to transform its economy and create wealth [and] create household income, it has to look to other ways of creating opportunity,” says Bryan David, program director of GO Virginia Region 3, which spans 13 counties and includes Danville and Martinsville. “Entrepreneurship is, frankly, one of those ways that a lot of rural regions have found success.”