Blake Salyer. Courtesy of UVA Wise Mark Robinson-Baker II

Do you have an idea for a business or want to expand an existing one? The University of Virginia’s College at Wise (UVA Wise) is offering a new program to help.

The CO.STARTERS Core program is a 10-week cohort for aspiring entrepreneurs. It’s a globally-recognized program started in 2008 in Chattanooga, Tenn., as part of its five-year Main Street revitalization effort. 

It’s open to anyone in Southwest Virginia ready to transform their idea into a thriving business, according to Blake Salyer, UVA Wise’s Ecosystem & Innovation Manager. UVA Wise hopes the program will create new businesses and ventures to help revitalize the region’s downtowns.

Participants must apply by August 5, and the cost is $150. Certain communities may partner to offer scholarships to participants from their area. Current UVA Wise students who are members of UVA Wise’s NEST, the College’s entrepreneurship club, are eligible for a scholarship to cover the registration fee, too.

The cohort begins August 18, 2022 with sessions held on Thursdays at 6 p.m. Sessions one and 10 will be held in person at UVA Wise’s Oxbow Center in St. Paul. The majority of the sessions—two through nine—will be held virtually via Zoom.

Salyer will serve as one of the co-facilitators along with other partners including GO Virginia Region 1 and Opportunity SWVA. UVA Wise Assistant Professor of Entrepreneurship and Innovation Shankar Naskar will serve as a mentor for the program in providing input as participants evolve their ideas into opportunities.

In May, Salyer became the College’s first ecosystem and innovation manager. 

Part of the new role is working to connect and create a network of early-stage or first-time entrepreneurs in the region. Some of that work is bringing together small businesses to existing resources like co-working spaces, investment opportunities and supporting organizations.

For the past year, Salyer served as the entrepreneur coordinator for the NEST, a UVA Wise off-campus co-working space and entrepreneurship community where students, community leaders, business owners and faculty come together to shape business start-up ideas. There, he developed campus programming to support and mentor students in entrepreneurship. 

A 2015 graduate of UVA Wise, Salyer holds a business administration degree and is a veteran entrepreneur himself.  While in college, Salyer started his first solo venture, an Apple-device mobile repair shop. He’s gone on to create a creative services business, and an e-commerce merchandise brand, Winze Co., which produces Southwest Virginia-inspired mountain lifestyle apparel.

His most recent venture has been launching Lincoln Road Coffee Lounge in Norton with his partners. Lincoln Road Coffee was founded by Ryan Jones as a mobile coffee business serving up authentic nitro cold brew and has since grown into a multi-location coffee and tea retail and wholesale experience in Eastern Kentucky and Southwest Virginia.

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