Our team at the Cherokee Office of Economic Development (COED) recently launched our newest entrepreneurship initiative, the North Atlanta Venture Mentoring Service (NAV). Headquartered in Cherokee County, NAV is the first of its kind in the state of Georgia. The program was made possible through the Cherokee By Choice initiative – a five-year results-driven public/private partnership aimed at reinforcing Cherokee’s role as a leader in economic development. NAV is principled and trained by The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Venture Mentoring Service (VMS) and is based on the proven concept of team-based mentoring.

We recognized the value that a collaborative mentorship program could provide to Cherokee County after conducting a strategic plan and building an entrepreneurial ecosystem. Years of research and several visits with MIT sister programs later, it was clear the MIT VMS mentorship approach would give local entrepreneurs the greatest chance at success. MIT VMS has a proven 20-year track record operating its internal program and has shared its mentoring model to organizations in 23 countries. NAV is the 90th sister program of the MIT VMS program.

“We wanted to grow Cherokee County entrepreneurs but didn’t want to limit our reach to the county borders. Diversity and inclusion matter to us, which is why we are selecting 20 mentors with a wide range of experience and seven ventures for our pilot,” said COED President, Misti Martin. NAV mentors are seasoned entrepreneurs and executives who come ready to learn, listen, and guide. NAV ventures recognize their need for mentorship, are coachable, and ready to develop themselves and their businesses.

Connecting entrepreneurs to a team of mentors within a formally structured program is a valuable way to guide them on their journey toward success. In a real train-the-trainer style, NAV will build on the local mentor community in Cherokee and North Atlanta to offer the best and brightest minds to local entrepreneurs. The pilot program will launch with seven teams that meet monthly. Throughout the duration of the program, we will continue receiving applications for mentors and ventures who want to get involved in this program.

“Entrepreneurs play a vital role in our economy and the local community. I believe in the power of mentorship to help guide startups. When COED asked me to be a part of their innovative team-based mentorship program, I was happy to give back to a worthwhile initiative that is connected to such a prestigious institution with a reputation for innovation and entrepreneurship,” said NeoMed, Inc. President Aaron Ingram.

This program is a catalyst for building strong entrepreneurial ecosystems across the country, including cities such as Asheville and Greenville. Thanks to strong leadership and strategic vision, we knew that making this ecosystem sustainable would require committed mentors who believe in giving back to the future generation of entrepreneurs.

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.

Alma coffee, who recently opened their first cafe in The Circuit Woodstock, will be one of the seven ventures in the pilot.“The coffee industry is growing but has a long way to go. We are doing our best to push the industry forward; getting a fresh perspective from people outside the industry will help us with new ideas. We are both young in our venture and having the guidance of seasoned mentors will help steer our ship in the right direction,” said Harry and Leticia Hutchins, Co-founders of Alma Coffee.

Through active support of entrepreneurs, NAV contributes to entrepreneurship education and catalyzes innovation while working to make Cherokee County the #1 place in the state to start a business.