by Anna Pollard:
At last spring’s Tom Tom Founders Festival Hometown Summit four speakers looked to the future during a breakout session on what commerce might look like in years to come. Ed Harrell, entrepreneur in residence at Harrisburg University of Science and Technology, Jerry Peng, founder of Vastly, Megan Robinson, executive director at The Collider, and Steve Warner, chief strategist at the Charleston Regional Development Alliance each brought unique insights on this topic based on personal experiences with innovative companies. In an age of technological exploration, these four initiatives are bringing a fusion of scientific innovation and market-lead practices to the East Coast. This article summarizes some of our key takeaways from each about what it takes to foster the future in America’s small cities.
Vastly sells paper products and fertilizers—but that’s not all they do. Using an earth restorative process, Vastly’s products leave the soil in better condition than when they began, and it’s happening in Virginia.
Founder and ex-CEO Jerry Peng said locating Vastly in Virginia makes sense business-wise, and part of Vastly’s mission is to successfully combine environmental and market sustainability. The accessibility of Virginia’s distribution network, pro-business policies, and a ready workforce in Charlottesville and Chesterfield, Virginia make for an ideal location to pioneer this industry.
The Collider is a nonprofit exploring market-driven climate solutions. Located in Asheville, North Carolina, this organization utilizes partnerships and initiatives to arrive at answers centered on both businesses and the environment.
Executive Director Megan Robinson said basing The Collider in the same city as The National Center for Environmental Information was no accident, and the nonprofit serves as a link between the community (including non-science people) and top climate experts. The Collider’s engagement allows for a variety of discourse and exploration, which drives those on the business side and environmental side towards solutions together.
Harrisburg University for Science and Technology equips both their students and the surrounding community. Located in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, HU engages students in STEM fields and partners closely with the local private industry to offer business insight to science.
Ed Harrell, a faculty member and entrepreneur-in-residence, said HU was created to support minority students and has expanded to take on a complementary role of entrepreneurship. The school partners with the local community to teach business and STEM skills at high schools and in other areas.
Harrell said, for instance, one of the HU programs called Women in Tech taught coding at night in laundromats to those in poorer communities. Harrell added that the point of these outreach programs is to empower people with the skills to run their own businesses in as little as three months.
The Charleston Regional Development Alliance is also working to strengthen communities. CRDA is a collection of members from businesses to investors to government partners, with their sights set on creating jobs and recruiting high-value industries to the Charleston area.
Steve Warner, Vice President of Global Competitiveness, said the success of CRDA is about bringing leaders and experts in all fields and sectors together to enhance business in Charleston, including drawing upon a vast well of science and technology resources.
Moving forward, the future is promising but unchartered. Not all of these organizations and businesses are finding the east coast to be a breeze for their initiatives.
Robinson said that although Asheville is ideal in many ways, it has been challenging to entice investors to take Asheville as seriously as it should be taken. Harrell added that it can be challenging to reshape the attitudes of high schoolers with whom HU works to think like entrepreneurs.
Yet, for Vastly, the east coast offers opportunity for the business that is exciting to explore. CRDA is anticipating business growth through their alliance, which prepares Charleston for changing markets and commerce world. Each business has already proven its pioneering can continue to do just that while promoting both technological and business interests.