The brainchild of the Asheville Chamber of Commerce and the Economic Development Coalition for Asheville-Buncombe County, the Venture Asheville initiative works to energize a local high-growth entrepreneurial ecosystem. Fittingly, investing and growing “green” businesses – those which create value from renewable, sustainable activities that are mindful of reducing energy use and waste – are the basis of this ecosystem. Success is based on businesses that sustain the earth, and on a system that sustains itself and the local economy in large part by bringing like-minded people and ideas together. The interdependent elements of this ecosystem are entrepreneurs, talent, and the capital to make it all work. Actively connecting all three becomes the catalyst for business innovation.
Knowing that it takes a special combination of vision and development muscle to start an initiative of this type, the group hired Josh Dorfman, a startup veteran with experience on both coasts, to take the reins as director of entrepreneurship. A recent transplant to Asheville, Dorfman is the creator of The Lazy Environmentalist brand – giving him a potent resume that makes him at home in a small, green community with a high-tech story to tell.
A new investor network was launched earlier this year: the Asheville Angels. The invitation-only group is comprised of local businesses leaders to help mentor and fund budding companies. Dorfman did his homework before launching the organization: The group’s structure borrows from a similar, five-year effort in Greenville, SC: the Upstate Carolina Angel Network. That neighboring community’s network has been in business for more than five years, and has driven $10 million into its startup community. It provided Asheville’s leaders with a blueprint for its own process of curation, screening, and due diligence review of startups to consider bringing under the Venture Asheville umbrella.
Startups in the community that work with Venture Asheville are remarkably diverse and unique. For example, there’s BROO, which has created an artisanal line of beauty products, including shampoos and other personal care products created from local craft beers. Appalatch produces custom-made clothing from sustainable fibers using a 3-D printing process. And, under those custom-made clothes you can wear Knock Out! undergarments, made of 100 percent cotton with a high-tech absorbency twist. All these products are made in the USA, and show that sustainability is, well, sustainable.
Asheville’s entrepreneurial community is getting noticed. On Nov. 12, DoctorDirectory.com, an Asheville startup company founded in 1996, was purchased in a deal worth $65 million. The buyer is New York City media company Everyday Health.