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Local Entrepreneurial Leaders Speak at CLEI Event


Written by Bradley Bommarito

During the open block on Thursday, Sept. 20, Annette Patterson from The Advancement Foundation and Brad Stephens from CoLab spoke to a group of students in West Hall 210 as guests of the Center for Leadership and Entrepreneurial Innovation’s first lunch of the semester.

In addition to sharing their own stories, the speakers informed students of local entrepreneurship opportunities and resources.  Patterson, president of the Advancement Foundation, explained that there are many projects that students can get involved with at various levels and in various areas of focus. She also talked about TAF’s premier event, “The Gauntlet.” In a process similar to the one used on the television show “Shark Tank,” “The Gauntlet” allows Roanoke Valley area entrepreneurs to learn more about starting and running a small business and to compete for money that can be used to launch their business or take their operations to new levels.

“The Gauntlet is one of the most comprehensive training and mentoring programs around. We target key skills and infuse business mentors into those areas, which best ensures comprehensive success. We also have guest speakers that are knowledgeable, dynamic, and enthusiastic about small business development. Through our partnership with key organizations, we engage in a holistic approach to business success,” said Patterson.

According to their website, the Advancement Foundation creates opportunities for dynamic community development by facilitating opportunities that empower citizens. TAF initiates, develops, and coordinates strategic action across all sectors of the community (nonprofits, business, government, and civic) in order to engage all citizens in transformative outcomes.

CoLab is a collaborative working area in the Grandin neighborhood of Roanoke that provides space to help businesses grow. Members pay a monthly fee to utilize the work space and infrastructure. Cooperation and collaboration are defining features of CoLab. Many members end up helping each other out with specific needs or working together on special projects.

“We provide an infrastructure for Roanoke’s entrepreneurial ecosystem through programs, education, networking, mentorship and shared workspace,” said Stephens.

The purpose of the CLEI speaker series lunches is to expose students to new perspectives on entrepreneurship and new ways to get involved in entrepreneurial activity. This program brings onto campus each month during the academic year a local or national entrepreneur who shares his or her experiences with students during a lunch Q & A panel. Speakers use their experiences to teach and encourage students who have a desire to pursue entrepreneurial passions.

According to their website, the CLEI is committed to helping students discover their vocational passions and interests and providing them with the educational tools needed to turn their ideas into viable innovations and businesses. Through college courses, intensive learning experiences, independent studies, internships, job shadowing, and exposure to professional subject matter experts across a wide range of disciplines, students are encouraged to pursue their interests through entrepreneurial expression.

“Given the commitment that students make to their education in the classroom, we at RC believe that the same commitment can and often should be extended to cocurricular and extracurricular opportunities, such as those provided by CLEI, the Center for Civic Engagement, and other campus and community organizations,” said Steve Baker, business professor and CLEI director.