Content Strategy for Startups

A few weeks ago, I had the chance to talk about sales and marketing strategies with several of the companies in Velocity Labs, our startup accelerator. It was a spirited conversation about everything from sales funnels to paid social to content strategy - I love how sales gets everyone fired up! We didn’t get to dig into the content piece as much as I would have liked to, so I asked a local content and storytelling expert, Sanny Visser, to provide some thoughts here. She was kind enough to share 3 principles of good content.

-James Bance

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By: Sanny Visser - Content Strategy, Social Media & Stories

Transform your relationship with your customer: 3 secrets of good content

A 2016 Smart Insights study revealed that every 60 seconds, over 3 million posts are created, on Facebook alone. There’s no question that the content you publish as a brand is more important than ever. But what are the secrets of good content? How do you make sure that your content adds value, and creates a meaningful relationship with your customer? Let’s reveal three secrets.

Something I will always remember…

I clearly remember the very first paper letter I received in the mail (hey, we are talking mid-90s here) from my brand new pen pal. We met on vacation and decided to write letters once we got home. Anxious for that first letter to arrive, I ran to the mailbox every time the mailman stopped.

When it finally came, I would open the envelope, take out the letter, read it, and put it back. It would lie casually on my nightstand for weeks, as if receiving letters was just day-to-day business for me. I have kept that letter till this day, just as my parents still have a box of their own love letters up in the attic.

Why is it that a written letter can be so valuable? Because somebody apparently cares enough to sit down, take a piece of paper and a pen, and start writing a message to you. A stamp is put on, a mailman comes to pick it up, it travels through a sorting center, another mailman takes it out for delivery and there it is, in your mailbox. A lot of effort goes into one letter. Immediately, the relationship between writer and receiver becomes more valuable.

Create a valuable relationship

Why am I telling this story? Because in today’s digital world, there’s a way to create this same feeling of value with your customers. How? By offering them quality content, created with care and attention.  

As a company, you’ve probably heard you need to create content. However, you may not be sure why: how is a blog post – that doesn’t even talk directly about your product - going to give you more sales? It sounds like a bad investment all-round. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Publishing good content will change your relationship with your customer forever. Customers will be more committed, loyal, and involved with your brand.

3 secrets of good content

Now, there is no cookie-cutter strategy for content. Every brand is different, so every content strategy is different. There are, however, a few secrets of good content out there.

  • Add emotion (but not necessarily drama)

People choose with their hearts, so make sure you address their feelings. Instead of saying ‘Do you have too much on your to-do list?’ say ‘Do you feel overwhelmed by your to-do list?’ People will quickly feel this sense of being heard and whisper to themselves “Gosh yes, I do feel overwhelmed, thank you for hearing me.”

  • Educate your audience

Don’t just repeat what others are saying, but apply thought-leadership. Predict trends, bring new insights, and guide the way. You’ll quickly become an authority in your field. Dig deep and don’t be too broad. To give you an example, compare these two headlines: 5 grill tips everyone should know vs. Foodies: these charcoal tricks will change how you grill this summer. The first one is too broad, the second one triggers food-lovers because it’s about something they might not know yet.

  • It’s not about you or your product.

Wait, what? Again: companies that provide good content understand what their customer wants to know. They listen to their needs and don’t just yell to them about their amazing product. So, before you put anything out there, think about what questions your audience might have. How can you truly serve them?

Do you want to work on your content strategy? Feel free to contact me over email or over the phone. You can find my contact information here.

Sanny Visser helps small businesses share their story and expand their reach through content strategy, social media marketing and storytelling. Sanny’s business is based here in Boone, NC but her Dutch roots run deep. She works with clients near and far, producing content in English and Dutch.

Contact Sanny at: 828 719 7464 or on her website here.

November Startup Social Recap

40+ entrepreneurs, students, business owners and community members gathered at Ransom in downtown Boone for our November monthly Startup Social last night! Ransom provided drink tickets for everyone in attendance as well as an awesome spread of appetizers and pizzas! Folks were able to mingle and network for the majority of the night. We were thrilled to have Andy from Cavendish Brewing Co. out of Gastonia, NC. Andy shared some information about the brewery and also shared samples with everyone. Stop by Ransom to try one of their beers on tap now!

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Sam, Startup High Country (SHC) team member welcomed everyone and thanked Ransom for their great hospitality. He also invited everyone to attend our upcoming Year End Community Celebration at the Blowing Rock Legion on December 6th from 6-8:30 PM. Everyone is invited to attend and celebrate all of the great successes Silicon Hollar and Startup High Country have accomplished this year! We are excited and honored to announce that our special guest speaker for the Year End Celebration will be Thom Ruhe!

Thom is President and CEO of NC IDEA. He is an entrepreneur, investor, mentor and works with entrepreneurs, governments, universities and NGOs around the world to embrace the entrepreneurial mindset needed to grow vibrant economies.
During his seven-year tenure at the Kauffman Foundation, he directed the Foundation’s programs addressing entrepreneurial education, mentoring, access to capital and fostering entrepreneurial ecosystems. Thom also led Kauffman Labs for Enterprise Creation, a school dedicated to advancing community deployed experiential-based entrepreneurial education.
Thom has served on the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council for Entrepreneurship, addressed the United Nations Assembly on Entrepreneurship, lectured at conferences around the world and serves on multiple boards including Innovation Fund America and the Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise at the University of North Carolina.

Carolyn Clark, Communications Specialist & Consultant announced that Ransom will continue to host our Silicon Hollar weekly Pop-Up Coworking sessions through the month of December! We are so excited to share their awesome workspace with entrepreneurs, dreamer, thinkers and doers for another month! Our next coworking session will be on Thursday, November 29th from 8 AM - 2 PM, join us! Learn more here.

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Angela Heavner from 180 Float Spa pitched their upcoming December 12th Boone event, showcasing their Local Public Offering (LPO) and hosted by Mountain Bizworks. Get details about this event by visiting, https://www.180floatspa.com/ and signing up for Event Details! 180 Float Spa is offering you the opportunity to invest in your wellness and our community through a LPO. 180 Float Spa is only the second LPO to be approved for Investment crowdfunding in NC! Learn more about investing here.

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Kat Dolan, Performance Poet & Mental Health Advocate from local nonprofit, Out of Your Mind discussed upcoming Open-Mic events and opportunities in Boone! The next Performance Poetry Event is “Get Lit,” at Boone Saloon on November 28th from 7-10 PM and Kat is the Featured Performer! Learn more here.

We would like to thank Ransom again for hosting and providing an awesome Startup Social atmosphere this month! Our next Startup Social will be combined with the big Silicon Hollar Year End Community Celebration on Thursday, December 6th from 6-8:30 PM at the Blowing Rock Legion! Please RSVP here.

View more images from last night by clicking through below!

NC IDEA FOUNDATION to Launch Entrepreneurial Mindset Program Statewide

NOW Accepting Applications from Education Partners for Facilitator Training and Certification


DURHAM, NC – November 8, 2018 – NC IDEA, a private foundation committed to helping North Carolinians reach their full entrepreneurial potential, announced today a statewide effort to offer entrepreneurial mindset education, through a curriculum called the Ice House Entrepreneurship Program (IHEP).

Created in partnership with the Kauffman Foundation, the Ice House Entrepreneurship Program (IHEP) is an experiential, problem-based program designed to inspire and engage learners in the fundamental aspects of an entrepreneurial mindset, while immersing them in entrepreneurial experiences that will enable them to develop creativity and critical thinking, effective problem solving, teamwork and other entrepreneurial skills – skills that will enable them to succeed regardless of their chosen path.

The program can be offered in a variety of ways to students in public and private high schools, community colleges and universities, clients of community development financial institutions (CDFIs), and those served by our statewide network of ecosystem and economic development partner organizations.

The course is facilitated by instructors and faculty that complete a three-day training and certification program and it does not require the instructor to be a subject matter expert in entrepreneurship, but rather a facilitator of the materials (print, online and video) that provide the expertise.

“NC IDEA has an ambitious goal to educate 100,000 North Carolinians with an entrepreneurial mindset,” said Thom Ruhe, President and CEO of NC IDEA. “We cannot do this alone, so we are seeking education partners who want to help us empower as many people as possible,” Ruhe concluded.

NC IDEA is hosting the three-day Ice House Facilitator Training for education partners interested in offering the course to their constituents. Training will be held December 12-14, 2018 at a location (TBD) in the Durham-Raleigh area. Education partners will likely be entrepreneurially-minded organizations drawn from educational institutions (particularly community colleges), entrepreneurial support organizations, economic development organizations, CDFIs or government entities. Organizations with demonstrable intent and capacity to offer the program to individuals broadly, will be given priority consideration. Because seating is limited, we will be admitting facilitators through an application process. NC IDEA will pay the training costs and participants will only have travel-related expenses. To learn more and apply to become an Ice House Launch Partner, visit www.ncidea.org/grants-programs/ice-house. The deadline to apply is December 1st.

NC IDEA supported Ice House Entrepreneurship Programs will be launching in the first quarter of 2019. Learn more about the powerful curriculum at www.elimindset.com.

About NC IDEA FOUNDATION
NC IDEA is an independent private foundation committed to supporting entrepreneurial ambition and economic advancement in North Carolina. Today, the organization fulfills this mission through a strategic combination of competitive grants and programs. NC IDEA ECOSYSTEM funds organizations across the state that execute creative programs to support entrepreneurs. Similarly, NC IDEA ENGAGE is a community-focused grant program supporting individuals and organizations that facilitate entrepreneurship activity. Over the last decade, the NC IDEA SEED program has awarded over $5.5 million in non-dilutive grants to 131 growth-oriented companies across the state, and most recently awarded nearly $150,000 in 15 micro-grants through a pilot program. Since 2011, over 150 companies have participated in NC IDEA LABS, formerly Groundwork Labs, to guide founders developing an idea or product. NC IDEA SOAR, a program founded in 2012, supports female entrepreneurs leading scalable businesses in raising capital through mentorship, strategic advice and connections. NC IDEA LEAD, the Foundation’s newest program, provides leadership training for founders of high-growth companies. Learn more at www.ncidea.org.

About the Entrepreneurial Learning Initiative
The Entrepreneurial Learning Initiative (ELI) is a global thought leader dedicated to expanding human potential through entrepreneurial mindset education. ELI serves academic institutions, government agencies, profit, and non-profit organizations around the world to empower their constituents with an entrepreneurial mindset through professional development training, facilitator certification, and curriculum content. ELI is the creator of the Ice House Entrepreneurship Programs. Learn more at www.elimindset.com.

Opinion: Silicon Valley is looking at Charlotte, but can’t find a leader

By Sam Smith of Start Charlotte

A group of 10 Charlotte-based founders and investors, an Ohio congressman and four investors from Silicon Valley and New York sat around a large table at Napa on Providence late October 16. A party you might only experience in San Francisco was brought to our backyard through a tweet.

Before Roy Bahat, head of Bloomberg Beta, headed out on a three-city tour of the South, he asked his Twitter followers for advice on whom he should meet to get an authentic view of startup life in the Queen City. I’ve met some of the best founders in Charlotte through Collective Hustle, making it easy to offer introductions.

The trip was part of the “Comeback Cities Tour,” an investor pilgrimage of sorts conceived to show Silicon Valley investors the kinds of companies born and raised in parts outside the country’s major startup hubs. Earlier this year, the tour headed to several cities throughout the Midwest. Last week, that same group of investors hit up Charlotte, Columbia, S.C., and Atlanta.

A few emails and two weeks after that tweet went out, I was sitting next to Bahat as he explained his group’s goal to better understand our ecosystem, as well as learn how Silicon Valley investors can better connect with founders and investors in the South.

The following day an additional 11 investors gathered with Charlotte politicians, local educators and a handful of Charlotte founders to continue the conversation.

Even though the two different groups had separate conversations, the commentary revolved around three central questions: How can new startups gain access to capital? How can the local government better assist? And which local investor will lead the way? And the end result was a common realization: Startups are struggling to find support in the Charlotte ecosystem.

Access to capital in Charlotte

Almost every founder that spoke voiced frustration over their experience with risk-averse investors in the Queen City, leading to difficulty getting new ventures off the ground.

“Other [venture capitalists] don’t understand the hurdles we face,” said Patrick Hill, founder of a Cultivated Mindset, a mobile app and web development firm in Charlotte. “In Silicon Valley, they accept six out of 10 checked boxes as far as ‘what they need’ from a startup. Maybe you don’t have the employees or traction; those investors will help you check those last four boxes. In Charlotte, you have to have all 10 boxes checked without any help from outside capital.”

Some investors argued that a lack of resources forces the founder to focus on making money, creating a powerful exercise to generate revenue more quickly. But a lack of capital and shift to conservative business practices can lead startup leaders to take fewer risks in the long run.

“I see a loop where founders with conservative investors will begin to make more conservative business decisions,” said Charles Hudson, managing partner and founder of Precursor Ventures. “When I speak to companies that don’t have a big vision and stop taking risks, I don’t get excited about investing in their startups.”

Obstacles faced by founders in the Queen City aren’t unique, but a few investors noted their surprise over the lack of angel investment activity in such a thriving metropolis.

“There is a reason there isn’t risk aversion in San Francisco. It’s because the founders and the investors in the area started out as misfits,” said Representative Ro Khanna, a Democrat who represents the Silicon Valley region. “They didn’t have the right look. They didn’t quite fit in. That fueled them and gave them a willingness to take risks.”

Bahat interjected, “But before the misfits, the government stepped up to help.”

The role of government

Congressman Tim Ryan, a Democrat that represents northeastern Ohio, may seem like an odd addition to the group, but he and Bahat organized the group’s inaugural trip in the Midwest last spring.

Ryan brought to the meeting the perspective of a local government official who is doing big things for the entrepreneurial ecosystem. A few hours before landing in Charlotte, Ryan announced that original tour led to the creation of the $2.25 million Comeback Capital Fund, created to bridge the divide between Silicon Valley investors and Midwestern startups. Investors in the fund included HighRidge Venture Partners, Bloomberg Beta, Gener8tor and 30 individual investors.

In Charlotte, Ryan focused in on how local officials could do something similar in the Queen City.

“With banking jobs becoming more automated, how can the local government prepare Charlotte for the disruptive companies that will continue to bring jobs to the region?” Ryan asked the group.

Tariq Bokhari, a representative on the Charlotte City Council and a spokesman for the Carolina Fintech Hub, was vocal in speaking for the cities fintech focus and the investment opportunity in Charlotte.

“One-third of banking jobs will be extinct over the next decade,” Bokhari said. ”No one wants to think about it, but it’s coming. If we just sit around, there will be a point of no return.”

At our dinner the night before, we couldn’t think of a prominent government official that actively advocates for Charlotte startups, or who creates incentives or opportunities to keep us excited about the region. The frustration also circled around the fact that capital is available but isn’t being deployed.

We discussed actionable items government officials could take to invigorate the ecosystem, including courting startups from San Francisco, New York and Boston to open second offices in Charlotte, deploying existing capital to assist early-stage organizations and providing tax incentives for research and development.

Who will lead the way?

The group of founders, investors and city officials sat in Johnson C. Smith University’s new science building in a circle on Oct. 17, sharing a profile of the typical Charlotte investor.

“I think there is something Charlotte is obviously missing, which is an active angel network,” said Patrick McKenna, founder of the Silicon Valley-based HighRidge Venture Partners. “There are three types of angels: A collective group of angels that pool money together, which tend to be the least valuable for the ecosystem; An institutional angel, who is a person focused on funding with an analytical eye; And a super angel, who is usually a sophisticated investor with some skin in the game. The super angel is the most important of the three.”

While discussing his fundraising experience, Hill mentioned working with Atlanta angel investor and entrepreneur Paul Judge.

“Who is the Paul Judge here? Who is the angel that can educate the wealthy people of Charlotte to become the next investors in the ecosystem?” said Tyson Clark, general partner at GV (previously known as Google Ventures).

Courting and educating more wealthy and diverse locals to invest in Charlotte is an achievable short-term action item. A big difference between Charlotte and the regions represented by the visiting congressmen: Our investors are more likely to invest elsewhere.

“Investors in Southern cities are not only the least likely to invest inside their own metro areas, they are also the least likely to invest in startups based in the same state,” according to Jason Rowley at Crunchbase.

When there is a lack of resources in a region, founders will agree to unattractive terms that weigh heavily in the investors’ favor and make it challenging for outside investors to jump in. The visiting investors mentioned multiple times that this is a big reason they have walked away from a deal outside of Silicon Valley.

What happens next

The final statement of the meeting was made by Bokhari, who challenged the visiting investors to get more involved in the Charlotte ecosystem.

I would instead challenge local founders, investors and politicians to consider the ideas discussed among the group. We need a leader to inspire and educate new players to become angel investors. We need to find a “startup czar” who will be a liaison between the government and entrepreneurs, advocating for incentives that assist new businesses and large corporations.

As the founder of Vishion and the local entrepreneurship group Collective Hustle, I am continuing an effort to build the bridge between Charlotte and Silicon Valley. Bahat extended an invitation to bring a group of founders to San Francisco to continue the conversation, which I intend to make happen.

If you are a founder, investor or government official looking to become more active in the startup community, come to the next Collective Hustle event on November 7.

And for those who are wondering how I was able to get a seat at the table, I’ll tell you the recipe: a truckload of effort, a smidge of luck and a pinch of Twitter.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of StartCharlotte.

Sam Smith is the founder and CEO of Vishion, a mobile application that allows shoppers to search by color for décor. She created Collective Hustle with two other female founders, Mary Johnson and Aru Anavekar. The group brings investors and founders together to improve the Charlotte ecosystem.

For more stories like this, subscribe to StartCharlotte’s free weekly startup newsletter.

Startups, Accelerators, Investment Funds...oh my!

We are beyond excited to announce the launch of Velocity Labs. Aimed at supercharging startups in our region, this program will help young companies grow faster by building connections with investors, other founders, and mentors that have had seen success in their own right.

But hold up...startup companies? Investors? Founders? This all sounds like something that belongs in downtown Durham with the techies and hipsters - not in Boone. Economically speaking this region has been driven by tourism - and let’s be real - it is not perceived as a hotbed of innovation. However, it is an area where starting a business is not unusual, it’s even a right of passage. But to scale and grow a company beyond the craggy granite boulders of Blowing Rock, or the more gentle slopes west of Boone, is not common.

If you look a little closer, there’s currently a new wave of (startup) companies being birthed here and they’re driven by creative, industrious and technically skilled locals that are fueled by laptops, smartphones, gigabit internet and copious amounts of caffeine. Having access to all of these ingredients, along with a newly minted Angel Investment Fund (High Country Impact Fund) and close proximity to Appalachian State University makes Boone an exciting place to start a company.

The 5 county area surrounding Boone and it’s groundswell of ambitious entrepreneurs have the potential to make a splash in the economy of WNC and fill a much needed gap in a high-tech corridor that starts in Raleigh, extends to Winston-Salem, passes through Boone and south to Asheville.

In order to support a thriving startup ecosystem, entrepreneurs need support in the form of capital, connections and education. Over the last 4 years, Startup High Country has been a key player in the work to transform the economic trajectory of the area by forming the High Country Impact Fund as well as connecting coders, entrepreneurs, and investors via it’s Silicon Hollar events. The next phase of growth for the ecosystem is the birth of a locally based Startup Accelerator.

What the heck is an Accelerator?

In our case, it’s a 3-month intensive program that places local startup companies into a peer-based cohort. It’s designed to force founders to critically think about their customers, iterate on products faster, test and learn, make deeper peer connections and really get a grasp of the foundational aspects of operating a high growth company.

Another critical element of an accelerator program is to help facilitate opportunities quickly through a mentor driven support network. Experienced mentors help the founders avoid the typical pathways to mistakes and poor decisions that fledgling business owners often take. They can also pave the way for valuable introductions to key hires, investors, or new business opportunities.

Key data point - startups that go through an accelerator program, significantly increase their chances of surviving the first few critical years. One accelerator program, GAN Accelerator, shows that 85% of the 9,400 startups that went through their program, are still operating today.

Being a founder of a company can be a lonely journey on a very lonely road. The camaraderie built in an accelerator program can’t be replicated in traditional incubators, co-working spaces or business classes. When a founder interacts and builds friendships with other founders that are on a similar journey, magic can happen and the chances of surviving and thriving, go way up.

So Boone has an Accelerator now - What’s next?

First off, let me explain what Startup High country has created. Velocity Labs, the High Country’s first accelerator program, launched its pioneer cohort on Tuesday, September 11, 2018 and it will finish up in late November 2018.

“Startups face a number of challenges while building a viable business,” says Jeffrey Scott, Velocity Labs Director. “At Velocity Labs we help founders understand that they are really a temporary organization in search of repeatable, scalable and profitable business models. What is the big problem they trying to solve and for whom? Is the opportunity worth the investment of millions of dollars and years of work? We help them put first things first and validate their business model early on to increase their likelihood of success as a high growth company in the High Country.”

We received and reviewed about 20 applications from various companies in the area and ultimately narrowed the group down to seven. We felt these seven local companies had the right mix of growth potential (over $5MM revenue in 5 years), product, and desire to stretch their thinking about their companies:

Hatchet Coffee, The Insulators, Silver Barre, Thriftsy, ChurchLearn, High Country Food Hub, and Smart Gaming Systems

(summary of each company at the bottom of this post)

A key piece of the puzzle has always been about teaming the companies up with mentors who have their own battle scars as well as invaluable stories of success, and failure, in their own journeys.

Our mentors are experienced, proven and knowledgeable business leaders that have been sought out by the Startup High Country partners for their expertise. These folks have lived through the highs and lows, and have personally experienced the anxiety, exhilaration and stress of starting a company, or have worked in large enterprises and high-growth startups. Our mentors are also well connected, so their personal networks are extremely valuable to the program and participants.

How long will this program be available?

For the next 3 years. Recently, Startup High Country was the recipient of a $100,000 grant from the NC IDEA FOUNDATION. Given through the NC IDEA ECOSYSTEM grant program, this investment is huge for our entrepreneurial ecosystem and is a signal of the potential and momentum building in the Boone and Blowing Rock area.

“Our partnership with Startup High Country allows us to create greater opportunity for the statewide exchange of ideas, experiences and connections between the mountains and the coast of North Carolina,” said Thom Ruhe, President and CEO of NC IDEA. "We look forward to our collaboration.”

SHC will use the grant to further Velocity Labs and promote our mission to create more high-tech (high-paying) jobs and more growth investment opportunities for the residents of the high country. With the support NC IDEA and local partners like Watauga Economic Development Commission and ECRS, Startup High Country has the fuel it needs to make a tangible impact in the economic outlook of the our region.

Want to learn more about Velocity Labs and Startup High Country? Visit us at:

www.startuphc.com


Or, connect with us on Facebook and Instagram.


Companies in Velocity Labs Cohort 1:

ChurchLEARN, a software company that helps churches recruit, equip and develop volunteers.

Hatchet Coffee, a roasting lab, slow bar, and coffee lounge.

High Country Food Hub, an online market for local food and artisan goods. It features over 500 products from 50+ small-family farms and food entrepreneurs from Watauga and 9 other surrounding counties.

Smart Game Systems, provides scenario-based learning development and a digital coaching platform for people and organizations needing greater risk agility, change of behavior, cultural alignment, improved performance, and innovation in an ever-changing environment.

SilverBarre, a fitness training technique that focuses on the training and support of the aging body. Age Graceful. Stay Active.  

The Insulators, use artificial intelligence to build models and generate accurate quotes for insulation and building world.

Thriftsy, the new way to save on your favorite brands while having fun in augmented reality!

Velocity Labs would not be possible without our amazing partners: Watauga EDC, NCIF, High Country Impact Fund, and ECRS.