The Cherokee Office of Economic Development (COED) announced the launch of the North Atlanta Venture Mentoring Service (NAV) today at The Circuit Woodstock to an engaged audience of Cherokee locals and community leaders. Headquartered in Cherokee, NAV represents Georgia’s first entrepreneur mentorship program principled and trained by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s (MIT) Venture Mentoring Service (VMS). MIT VMS has a proven 20-year track record operating its program and has shared its mentoring model with organizations in 23 countries. NAV represents the 90th sister program of MIT VMS.
NAV harnesses the expertise of mentors with proven skills and experience to guide startups toward success. Unlike many mentorship programs, NAV takes a team-based approach to mentorship. NAV was made possible through the Cherokee By Choice initiative – a five-year results-driven public/private partnership aimed at reinforcing Cherokee’s role a leader in economic development.
The pilot program was launched with 20 mentors and three ventures from around north Atlanta. “We want to grow Cherokee entrepreneurs but don’t want to limit our reach to the county borders. Diversity and inclusion matter to us, which is why we are selecting mentors with a wide range of backgrounds and experience,” said COED President Misti Martin. The impact of NAV will be measured through job creation, revenue growth, and community involvement. “For us, the goal is much bigger than building successful companies; it’s about fostering stronger entrepreneurs,” said Martin.
The evening included special remarks from NAV team leaders Misti Martin and Jonathan Chambers of COED. “Entrepreneurs are the heroes and mentors are guides that help them navigate their journey. After three years of researching and comparing mentorship programs with cities such as Asheville, North Carolina and Greenville, South Carolina, we landed on the MIT VMS program. MIT VMS has a proven track record of team-based mentorship and has earned a strong reputation as a leader in technology, innovation, and entrepreneurship. When it comes to mentorship, MIT VMS is the best of the best,” said Jonathan Chambers, COED’s Entrepreneurship Manager.
The first three ventures secured for NAV’s pilot represent a diverse background of industries and have connections to The Circuit: Alma Coffee, Flux Ice Cream, and Half Machine. Alma Coffee, led by Harry and Leticia Hutchins, is a 5th generation Honduras coffee farm operating their first roastery in Cherokee and first retail café at The Circuit. Flux Ice Cream is a Woodstock-based ice cream startup specializing in seasonal, local, handcrafted and chef-inspired ice cream and sorbet and is led by co-founders Chef Bobby King and Eric Velji. Half Machine, led by Co-founders Jim Nichols and Drew Davis, is a digital marketing agency focused on growing businesses through the power of storytelling through film.
In addition to the program’s launch, Georgia State House Representative and Cherokee County native Michael Caldwell announced a statewide resolution to officially recognize July 1st as Entrepreneurship Day in Georgia. “Georgia is the number one state in which to do business, and initiatives like NAV reinforce Cherokee as the No. 1 place to start a business in our state. It was an honor to lead the Georgia House in recognizing the work of the Cherokee Office of Economic Development and entrepreneurs across Georgia,” said Caldwell.
During the event, COED unveiled Cherokee’s first Entrepreneur of the Year Award, which will be presented annually. For the inaugural year, COED selected Reformation Brewery and its founders, Spencer Nix and Nick Downs. “We are humbled to be chosen for this special recognition. Cherokee is home. And there is no better place to start a business than home. We could not exist without you. This award is clearly a community award because you guys have invested in us. It’s not about us, it’s about this community. We are honored to raise a toast to celebrate Set Beer Free Day and Entrepreneurship Day in Georgia,” said Spencer Nix, CEO and Co-founder of Reformation Brewery.
Reformation Brewery opened a new R&D facility and public taproom in downtown Woodstock and announced a relocation and expansion of its warehouse and production to The Mill On Etowah in Canton. Reformation is also expected to open a new location at The Eddy, an 82-acre mixed-use development in Cobb County. “Reformation Brewery is a shining example of a Cherokee business that cares about local economic and community development,” said COED President Misti Martin.
To learn more about the NAV program, visit NorthAtlantaVMS.com. NAV will be accepting applications for future mentors and ventures after the 2019 cohort launches this Summer.