In 2004 as an undergraduate at University of Wyoming, Jacob Dolence started a web-based business to help students buy and sell textbooks.
“What stuck with me was how much I learned in putting something out there into the world,” says Dolence. “That immersive transformational learning experience eventually inspired me to teach entrepreneurship to college students.”
Dolence entered Longwood University in 2019 as a faculty member in the Honors College. He brought with him extensive experience working with student innovation and entrepreneurship at Northern Arizona University and West Virginia University. When he heard about the Longwood SBDC, he walked over to the office and knocked on the door.
“I met Sheri and Brandon, and we went out to lunch and talked,” remembers Dolence. “They said, ‘Hey, we’re having this big meeting for a new grant. You should come and join us to hear more about it.’ That was how I first got involved.”
As Dolence began working on the grant – a GO Virginia Region 3-funded feasibility study to explore a regional entrepreneurship strategy – his knowledge of how to help innovation thrive in rural regions proved invaluable.
Today, as Longwood University’s director of educational innovation and entrepreneurial ecosystems, Dolence works to support regional entrepreneurship initiatives and education. He specializes in assisting clients in the agriculture and education sectors. His love for teaching makes him the perfect fit to oversee youth programs such as CO.STARTERS Generator, supported by RISE Collaborative. CO.STARTERS helps middle school, high school and college-aged students transform their ideas into realities through prototyping and design workshops. At the conclusion of the program, students can pitch their ideas for prize money to launch their business or product.
Since officially joining the SBDC team in the summer of 2020, Dolence has watched the program evolve into an organization that offers what he terms “amplified opportunity” through a functional pipeline.
“Through regional ecosystem building work, capacity has been amplified, connecting entrepreneurs to resources they need more effectively and more quickly.”
This kind of networking – leveraging resources and figuring out how to connect entrepreneurs in ways that increase knowledge, access and opportunity – has already paid dividends.
“Recently, we connected to Charlottesville’s Community Investment Collaborative (CIC), which is a community-development funding initiative,” says Dolence. “It provides lower-interest loans to women and minority entrepreneurs. Now, several entrepreneurs in our region have gotten financing and capital through the CIC.”
Dolence loves making connections like these that put entrepreneurs one step closer to launching their dream business. In his mind, it’s like connecting pieces of a puzzle.
“If you squished our region together, we would have a population similar to Richmond or Charlottesville, but, as it is, the resources are more spread out,” he says. “So I think it’s really the role of the SBDC and RISE Collaborative to get those resources to people who need them.”
In part, this levels the playing field for anyone wanting to make it as an entrepreneur.
“Entrepreneurship is fundamental to the fabric of American society,” says Dolence. “Everyone has the right to be a small business owner.”