AdvantageWest, a regional economic development partnership is helping to get the word out about applications for Accelerating Appalachia’s inaugural class. Participants selected for the program will spend an intensive 12 weeks with seasoned entrepreneurs and proven practitioners who will serve as mentors and coaches, helping with all aspects of business development, particularly financing. The launch of Accelerating Appalachia is supported in part by AdvantageWest through a Rural Jobs Accelerator grant award from the Appalachian Regional Commission.

AdvantageWest is the regional economic development partnership serving the 23 western counties of North Carolina since 1994.

AdvantageWest is the regional economic development partnership serving the 23 western counties of North Carolina since 1994.

Do you know an entrepreneur or business that’s doing great stuff in food, farming, forests, fibers, energy, medicinal herbs, outdoor industry…..basically, a business that benefits land and people, sustainably and with potential to scale? Please let us know!!

Send them to us, in droves! By e-mail to!

We are looking for those innovators and we want to help them by connecting them to one another, to mentors, coaches, designers, legal specialists, investors, funders. launching in summer 2013. We’re focusing on accelerating Appalachia, but are looking for innovators wherever they may be, willing to join an extraordinary cohort in one of the most biodiverse regions in the world, the Blue Ridge and Smokey Mountains of western North Carolina. We would love for you to help develop this innovative pipeline of businesses – it’s good for all of us, and we will do something nice for you (details TBD)!

Our accelerator will bring together 16-20 entrepreneurs over a 10-12 week period (still refining the numbers and length of program). We design so that the cohort of peers are their own coaches and mentors, and we also cycle through world-class mentors, thought leaders, legal advisors, design consultants, investors, funders, and so on. At the conclusion of the session, the 16-20 entrepreneurs will peer select which two receive the pre-committed capital (we are developing a non-profit fund).

As important as the capital, however, are the relationships they form: with one another and the mentors/coaches/thought leaders/funders. Our goal is to accelerate these ventures so they can scale and impact across their sector – for instance, a water-saving or energy saving innovation for farmers, a simple mechanism for farmers to get their product to market for a fair price, an innovative design for looms that could be used by home weavers and industrial weavers alike, innovative uses of wood waste, and those are just a tiny sample of the WORLD of innovation that we know is out there!

We don’t know what the innovations will be, of course, but are very excited at what is already happening in this space around the world. we don’t know of any other accelerator focusing on these sectors, although there are some food-focused ones. Our developing model is inspired by and, as well as other high-impact, social enterprise accelerators. currently, we are casting a big net to reach out to hundreds of innovative entrepreneurs and develop a robust pipeline. We will send a short survey to gauge their interest and feasibility, and if they fit, will invite them to apply. Let us know at!

This recent farm study from Iowa is a great example of a simple solution that could have a huge impact on the sustainability of farming. An innovator that can figure out how to get this word to farmers on a large scale is the kind of innovator we want to help. How about an app made available to ag extension agents nationwide? would they share it? if their boss, president obama, mandated it they would :)

An excerpt from the article: “The results were stunning: The longer rotations produced better yields of both corn and soy, reduced the need for nitrogen fertilizer and herbicides by up to 88 percent, reduced the amounts of toxins in groundwater 200-fold and didn’t reduce profits by a single cent. In short, there was only upside — and no downside at all — associated with the longer rotations. There was an increase in labor costs, but remember that profits were stable. So this is a matter of paying people for their knowledge and smart work instead of paying chemical companies for poisons.”

Well, GrittyWorks is evolving, as we expected, and the name evolves with it. We are so excited to have established a partnership with one the most successful accelerator models in the world, Village Capital. And, ta dah, our Asheville-based accelerator is Village Capital Appalachia! VilCapApp! Village CAppalAchia! Ha, fun with names, but we are Village Capital Appalachia. Together, we’ll accelerate a combined group of 15-20 innovators from Appalachia and beyond, that are tackling the big challenges of land-based economies around the globe, bringing them together with world-class mentors and investors, to help launch these successful seed stage businesses into even more successful early and later stage companies! We have a lovely downtown location and are also considering staging some of our co-working at a beautiful farm school just outside of town. Over the past three years, Village Capital has launched 15 programs in 6 countries, supporting over 250 entrepreneurs. Village Capital participants have raised over $20 million, created over 7,500 jobs and served over 4 million customers worldwide. Combining Village Capital’s proven track record with our traction in this region of nature-based networks and business development, our growing cluster of vibrant agrarian and nature-based businesses in WNC (we were recently recognized as having the best local food culture and the best networked shared use facility for food and natural products in the country) and the recent award of the Obama administration’s jobs accelerator grant, lots and lots of interest AND some verbal commitments from investors and philanthropic organizations, and we are on our way to launch in Summer 2013. It’s a good day in the mountains :) How can you help? We are curating a list of at least 50 potential applicants for the accelerator, early stage businesses in the sectors of F’s and Energy ;) with proven success and good prospects for growth, with investment capacity for $50,000 – $500,000 and up over the next two years. Also, please do pass along your recommendations for philanthropy and investment to support our launch. We’re raising about $200,000 ($125,000 for the Village Capital part and another $75,000 for developing supply chain infrastructure that will begin the foundation for a sustainable accelerator for Appalachia :)

If Vermont can do it, surely so can we, North Carolina! WNC has a particularly innovative  local food culture, boasting one of the most vibrant food cultures in the country, infrastructure support for those systems, and developing extensive supply chain, regional and local economic development priorities for local, healthy food. However, WNC also has a reputation for siloing, a history of “stingy culture” (low wages and we are third in the nation for food hardship), duplication of efforts (highest per capita number of non-profits in the country is one example I’ve heard cited), factioning and turfism amongst local, regional and state organizations.. This lack of true cooperation is detrimental to our region, and perhaps why, even with all of our amazing accolades for a vibrant food culture, still only 2% of the food consumed locally is produced locally. We have alot of good, smart people with heart who perhaps can see beyond their turf to the bigger picture and come together to truly accelerate our local food economy, accelerating farmers out of poverty and accelerating better health for our populous . Maybe a little friendly “coopetition” with Vermont can ignite a vibrant statewide food systems serving ALL of WNC and the state.

“I have seen the future of how we can transition to a healthy local food system and it is in Vermont. Picture this: 180 people from all parts of the state’s food system, in one room, reflecting on how they have worked together over the past year in a coordinated way towards goals of doubling local food production, increasing jobs, and improving access to healthy food for all Vermonters. Picture a network that connects and provides the structure for collaboration among farmers, food processors, food businesses, retailers, consumers, policy makers, state agencies, university researchers, technical assistance providers, educators, non-profits, and funders. Picture these conversations informed by data and ideas gathered through in-depth research and stakeholder input of over 1,200 people in the state, summarized in a close to 1,000 page strategic plan” (eek, 1000 pages, but if 1200 people are implementing, maybe not so bad!).

Here’s the full article  and I’ll be advocating for this with my friends in state, regional, local governments and the private and non-profit sectors :)

Vermont Collective Impact to Transform a Food System


So, I’m writing from Hayes and Divisidero in the NOPA district of San Fran. Ready to plunge into SOCAP, THE MARKET AT THE INTERSECTION OF MONEY AND MEANING, THE SPACE BETWEEN GIVING AND INVESTING, WHERE PEOPLE COME TOGETHER TO PUT THEIR RESOURCES TO WORK TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE.”. Am in the esteemed role of Living Bridge/connector/socent leader/den mother for 100 scholarship entrepreneurs coming in from around the world. Connecting them, making sure their experience is meaningful, and learning more about their extraordinary work . Am so excited, like, can’t sleep excited! Thanks to mentors/advisors Kevin Jones and Rosa Lee Hardin for setting me up with this cool gig :) I just hope there is enough of me for all 100 of them!! The “living in the hostel with 100 extreme do-gooders from around the world”, am calling #SOCENTREALWORLD!! I need a video camera. Here till October 6th…..then back to sweet and gritty Appalachia to continue advancing GrittyWorks, our accelerator for good innovations for land-based economies.

So I relived my “Michelle Shocked” moment at the Global Innovation Summit in Silicon Valley this past July – well, sort of. The folks at Michelle Shocked were super fun and noisy – Silicon valley, thoughtful, and a little more restrained ;) “My Michelle Shocked moment” was at a show in Newport, Kentucky, when she asked if anyone in the audience of about 450, would like to come up and play. I had no plans to, but suddenly found myself onstage. And what was so cool is that SHE was truly shocked that not only could I play her songs, but I knew the lyrics and backed her up. And the audience loved it, during and afterward, many folks came asking who I was, where was I from, what was I doing. My Silicon Valley moment so similar: no plans to make a pitch, but found myself making a you tube pitch, along with 59 others, and was selected as one of 5 to come onstage and make a longer pitch to the crowd of about 450 and a panel of investors. And some of the naysayers that were sitting at my table before I made the pitch, insisting that small agriculture was dead (folks who seemed very detached and worked mostly for big government and big corporations – could there be a connection?), were also truly “shocked”. I was a little surprised myself! And sooooo many good folks came up after, wanting to know who I was,  where I was from and what I was doing :)

Great research on accelerators, and looking forward to working and collaborating with Village Capital and Unreasonable Institute – both founders offering to collaborate and partner. VilCap seems to be very good model for regional, has a nice chunk of capital at the end, and runs on a bare bones budget. Looks like we have our grant funding, awaiting on contract to ensure it doesn’t get gobbled up into some governmental programmatic staffing nightmare. Still need to raise about $250k in philanthropy and investment.

Off to North Beach for a macchiato in the Italian neighborhood, pick up my daughter, Amelia, and to say “hey” to my crazy lovely sweatermaker friend, Marianna, whose little shop in the neighborhood bursts with amazing creations of sweaterhood. Then to THE HUB, for the deluge of good! Follow the fun @esaraday!

Developing my timeline for GrittyWorks, the new name for our accelerator. looking at different business model templates, liking the Business Model Canvas right now. Open for suggestions on how best to share and get feedback on the business development process thus far :) Included as part of huge regional grant but won’t know if we’ve got some funding till August, bootstrapping it for now, and even though there’s lots of regional and local enthusiasm and confidence that the funding will be there, it ain’t there yet!! Good stuff happening, though, and keeping as optimistic as I can – getting to be part of the sweet documentary on stories of strong Appalachian women, “We Are Here Appalachia” (contribute to the Kickstarter campaign, it’s a Kickstarter “staff pick”!) On my way to San Francisco this week for the Global Innovation Summit to contribute to conversation on (in their words) “solving one of the overarching questions of our time: how do we intentionally grow innovation ecosystems in new places?” Hmmm, that’s what we aim to do in Asheville with the Grassroots Institute for Good (The GIG) to serve the land based economies of Appalachia and the world.  Then to Boulder for the Unreasonable Climax ;) part of the NC Entrepreneurship Summit in September and then back to SFO in October, thanks to Rosa Lee Harden, to help with the entrepreneur experience at SOCAP12 – i guess that sounds exhausting, but I’m Wide Awake!
We Are Here

I’ve been away, my blog, for good reason. My beloved father died after several years of living with Alzheimer’s……what a bizarre and wretched disease. For his last two years, I traveled every month from my home in Asheville, NC to my family home in Midway, KY and pretty much lived there the last couple of months. I wanted to know Papa Joel (PJ) as much as possible while he still knew me. And, he did, till the very end. He still had his faculties about him, knew his family, some friends, said “I Love You” alot. Over the last couple of months he was deteriorating rapidly, growing weaker, but still his essence and determination were pushing through – he would still flirt with the nurses during his 10 day hospital stay and say “i love you” to me every time he saw me. We were trying to get him rehab to help with his diminishing ability to walk, but the overflowing and understaffed public institution that is the University of Kentucky medical center just couldn’t do much for him – their default was to nursing home. Having none of that, we set up home health care and took him home to Midway. He was so happy to be there, showed some improvement, but after 5 days, in the wee hours of the morning on June 3rd, he read a page of Harry Potter (his constant companion for the last year), told the nurse to turn out the light, “he was ready to go to sleep” and he did, peacefully. He saw the road diverge, and took the one less traveled. To not linger more, and suffer more, and hang on expecting western medicine to prop him up. He has now joined us in our hearts, where he lives and guides, and is with me always. Over 600 people showed up over the two days we celebrated the life of this extraordinary man, this generous man who gave to his community, his beloved Kentucky, through his political activism, he and my Mom feeding over 20,000 people through the years at their Kentucky home, his free and open sharing as a physicist, a woodworker, as a human being. He loved the world, loved people, and rode out on a full moon, lunar eclipse and Transit of Venus into the Unfinished Universe. Welcome, PJ, welcome to one love.

Good things this way come – so very much excitement around the accelerator and it’s evolution. Regional economic development group included us on grant, invited to speak on panel for accelerators at Gov’s statewide entrepreneurship summit in AVL this fall, invited to Silicon Valley for Global Innovation Summit in July and am part of multi-media project on Women of Appalachia doing badass stuff. Sweet couple following me around with cameras, to boring meetings for now, but I take them to Kentucky soon and that will not be boring! Symbiosis happening with Mycelium School and many others as we develop a pathway of support for socents in Appalachia. Reaching out to many people and organizations, even some I preconceived notions that I didn’t like and found I was wrong wrong – being less stubborn. As PJ would say, “be helpful to people, even ones you think you don’t like, you never know how or when they may be helpful.”

And on a final note, I have intentionally not promoted my blog to grow followers cause I wanted it for my own thoughts for awhile. But I’m ready to get it out there now, to ask my friends and kindly strangers from around the world to help grow this sweet accelerator to help the land economies of Appalachia, and well….anywhere that people live off the land!  :)

“To successfully make the transition to the new socioeconomic era of the information age, we need to learn to focus the enormous power and efficiency of capitalism on the world’s most important problems. To do so will require figuring out how to unite the scalable tools of Technology Entrepreneurship with the moral ethos of Social Entrepreneurship. This is the essence of what the Startup Genome is calling Transformational Entrepreneurship.”

I think we are heading in this direction with our accelerator. i have reached out to the folks opening Asheville’s new tech accelerator to collaborate and connect with ours and they are interested. i want us to launch transformational entrepreneurs in farming, forestry, culture and fiber – don’t ya’ll?