River District Association logo. Courtesy of RDA.

The River District Association in Danville has awarded six new businesses more than $140,000 in RDA Dream Launch Grants to open or expand their brick-and-mortar businesses in the River District, and an additional $17,500 in a new grant opportunity, Catalyst Grants, to assist businesses in developing new business ideas. 

The River District Association Dream Launch Program is a multi-phase entrepreneurship program; the first phase, the Dream Launch Bootcamp, consists of six classes that teach participants a full slate of skills and information that business owners need. The annual Bootcamp is free for anyone to attend. This year, the program began  offering an additional seventh class specifically for food and beverage businesses. During the second phase of the Dream Launch Program, participants who complete the entire series and wish to open a brick-and-mortar business in the downtown River District area are eligible to pitch for Dream Launch grant funding. In addition, thanks to partnerships and collaboration building, Dream Launch Bootcamp participants are also eligible to elect to pitch for funding in the Danville-Pittsylvania Rev-Up with the Chamber of Commerce. 

Dream Launch, now finishing the fourth year of the program, saw registration of 91 for Dream Launch Bootcamp classes; 80 participants attended at least one class and 50 completed all six classes to earn a certificate of completion. Nine business plans were pitched to judges in the Dream Launch Pitch Competition in April.  

The strength of the Dream Launch program has offered participants an opportunity to overcome the hurdle of access to capital for startup businesses thanks to relationships with Movement Bank and American National Bank. Both institutions have agreed to waive their two-year business history requirement to apply for lines of credit. Movement Bank also participated as a judge at the Dream Launch Pitch Competition and chose two business plans to receive $2,500 grants.  

Of the nine businesses that pitched, six were awarded 2022 RDA Dream Launch Pitch  funding.  

Existing business that received funding to expand: 

• The Brick Running & Tri Store – Owner Adam Jones – $25,000

• Urban Fitness LLC – Owner Marvin Ken Jones – $13,200

• The Cosmetic Art Store – Owner Sebastian Steele – $25,000

New businesses that will locate in the River District: 

• Bliss Hair & Nail Studio – Owner Gabriela Blair – $28,000

• Bubble Aquatics & Exotics – Owner Ashlyn Tickle – $25,000 (Conditional Grant Award) 

• Temptations Gourmet – Owner Carnesha Fuller – $24,000 plus $2,500 grant from Movement Bank 

The three other businesses who pitched will receive support from RDA in a capacity other than a Dream Launch Grant, including the new Catalyst Grant: 

• Uncle Al’s LLC Hotdogs and Ice Cream – Owner Allen Plummer – $12,500 Catalyst Grant Award plus $2,500 grant from Movement Bank.  

• Gemz by Jada – Owner Jada Jones – $5,000 Catalyst Grant 

• The Wellness and Beauty Center – Owner JoAnn Pyles – $5,00 Facade Improvement Grant.

Funding for the 2022 RDA Dream Launch program was made possible by the city of Danville, the Dan River Region Entrepreneur Ecosystem (funded by the Danville  Regional Foundation), Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development, and a $90,000 grant from the Community Business Launch Program. Additional community partners in the RDA Dream Launch initiative include the Longwood Small Business Development Center, The Launch Place, Danville Pittsylvania Chamber of Commerce, American National Bank, Movement Bank, and many volunteer instructors, judges and mentors throughout the Dan River region. 

Grant recipients. Courtesy of River District Association.
Left to right: Adam Jones – The Brick; Ashlyn Tickle – Bubble Aquatics and Exotics; Tiffany Swanson Jones  (for Marvin Ken Jones) – Urban Fitness; Sebastian Steele – Cosmetic Art Store; Carnesha Fuller and Mr. Fuller – Temptations Gourmet; Allan Plummer – Uncle Al’s LLC; Mrs. Blair and Gabriella Blair – Bliss Hair and Nail Studio.