Brandon Hennessey
Longwood Small Business Development Center (SBDC)

Lauren Mathena 
SOVA Innovation Hub

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RISE Collaborative Announces Sponsors and Prize Categories for March 28 Business Pitch Competition

Prizes for start-ups, existing businesses, and women-owned businesses available at Southern Virginia’s first region-wide pitch competition



SOUTH BOSTON, Va. (February 21, 2023) – Featuring award categories for start-ups, existing businesses and female founders, the RISE Collaborative Business Pitch Competition on March 28 will award more than $15,000 in prize money to local entrepreneurs and business owners.

With prizes funded by contributions from a number of regional sponsors, registration for the event is open until March 7 and is free of charge. The pitch competition welcomes entrepreneurs in a variety of industries, including agriculture, manufacturing, retail, professional services, food, education, and more.

Applicants must be residents of GO Virginia Region 3 counties and cities – the cities of Danville and Martinsville; and the counties of Amelia, Brunswick, Buckingham, Charlotte, Cumberland, Halifax, Henry, Lunenburg, Mecklenburg, Nottoway, Patrick, Pittsylvania, and Prince Edward – and must have completed either the RISE Collaborative Business Bootcamp or a similar entrepreneurship training program. All applications must include three parts to be considered for participation in the event: a video pitch (90 seconds maximum), business plan, and financial projections worksheet. Anyone in need of resources or support to help with preparing their application is encouraged to connect with RISE Collaborative and the Longwood Small Business Development Center (SBDC) for technical assistance. 

RISE Collaborative’s first annual pitch competition is made possible by partnerships with sponsors from across Southern Virginia, including American National Bank & Trust, Benchmark Community Bank, First Citizens Bank, Hampden-Sydney College Flemming Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation, Letterpress Communications, Long & Foster Real Estate, Longwood University Office of Community & Economic Development, Southside Electric Cooperative, and SOVA Innovation Hub Corporation.

Sponsorship opportunities are still available for RISE Collaborative’s entrepreneurship training programs and pitch competitions. For more information, contact Lauren Mathena, director of economic development and community engagement at Mid-Atlantic Broadband Communities Corporation, at

RISE Collaborative Business Pitch Competition entrants will be considered for three prize categories: a start-up prize of $1,000 (multiple winners), a scale-up prize of $5,000 (multiple winners), and women-owned business prizes of varying amounts. Additional criteria for the woman-owned business prize, dubbed the Female Founder’s Fund, includes identifying as a woman and owning at least 51% of the business. Full criteria for all categories is available on the RISE Business Pitch Competition registration page

“We are thrilled to host Southern Virginia’s first region-wide business pitch competition,” Mathena said. “Through the SOVA Innovation Hub Corporation, we are working closely with RISE Collaborative partners, including the regional Small Business Development Center. The shared goal is to support early-stage entrepreneurs and small businesses in Southern Virginia. This competition is a chance for everyone to get into the same arena and share their best business pitch.”

Speaking about the women-owned business category, Mathena added, “At our pitch competition, we are committed to fostering an inclusive and equitable environment for all entrepreneurs. In particular, we recognize the unique challenges and barriers that women-owned businesses may face in accessing funding and resources. As such, and thanks to sponsors, we have implemented an additional prize allocation to support and encourage the participation of women-owned businesses in our competition.”

The women-owned businesses category was established by a donation from Letterpress Communications, owned by Ilsa Loeser of Farmville, Va. Loeser started Letterpress seven years ago and has successfully grown the company to include 10 employees and a team of more than 30 contract marketing specialists.

“Letterpress would not have survived had it not been for the support I received from Longwood SBDC and female mentors and leaders in the community,” Loeser said. “RISE Collaborative’s Business Bootcamp and Business Pitch Competition offer vital resources to women-owned businesses, introducing them to the robust network of small business supports we’ve been working to build in Southern Virginia. I hope to offer the same encouragement I received early on to other female entrepreneurs just beginning their journey. And I encourage more established female founders to join me by matching my donation and growing the Female Founder’s Fund.”

Loeser has been involved with growing the entrepreneurship ecosystem through her work with the Longwood SBDC where she serves as a small business advisor. Loeser has also been influential in creating the RISE Collaborative brand, which is designed to be an entrepreneur-led regional network serving Southern Virginia. Other women entrepreneurs interested in matching Loeser’s sponsorship should contact or visit  

“There are other great pitch competitions around the state and nationally, but limited opportunities exist for entrepreneurs in the more rural parts of our large region,” added Brandon Hennessey, director of innovation, research and entrepreneurship at the Longwood SBDC. “The RISE Collaborative Business Pitch Competition will help grow a network of entrepreneurs launching or expanding their ventures. Over the course of the next several years, we hope to see a ripple effect from this event as members of the next generation of Southern Virginia entrepreneurs use RISE Collaborative as the launchpad for their businesses.”

To register or for more information, visit the RISE Collaborative Business Pitch Competition homepage

RISE Collaborative Business Pitch Competition

BPC Prize Categories

  • Business Start-Up ($1,000)
  • Business Scale-Up ($5,000)
  • Female Founder’s Fund (varying amounts)

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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 composed of and managed by two primary entities: Longwood Small Business Development Center (Farmville, Va.) and SOVA Innovation Hub (South Boston, Va.). RISE provides guidance to entrepreneurs and business owners through a number of ongoing programs every year, including an 8-Week Business Bootcamp, student entrepreneurship programs, the regional Business Pitch Competition, and more. For more information, visit