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You Visit Tour. Webb Lion Fountain. June 1 2017. Photo David B. Hollingsworth

Forum for Women Entrepreneurs Held at ODU Innovation Center – Norfolk

By Brendan O'Hallarn

Virginia Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam hosted a roundtable Aug. 26 for women entrepreneurs at the Old Dominion University Innovation Center - Norfolk, to find out what female-owned businesses need to thrive in Hampton Roads.

Northam stressed that his role in the early morning session was to listen intently to the concerns of the female entrepreneurs.

"I want to have a discussion about how to provide women support as business leaders," Northam told attendees. "Gov. (Terry) McAuliffe and our administration have worked very hard to create what he likes to call the new Virginia economy. Just looking around the table, what a roomful of talent we have."

Around the rectangular table sat more than a dozen female entrepreneurs, running companies in fields such as technology, security and food service.

"What I would like to hear from you all, is if you wanted to start a business, how can we help at the local level? How can we help from Richmond? How can we help and grow businesses in Virginia?" Northam asked.

One after another, the business owners stressed that the Commonwealth, the City of Norfolk and higher education institutions can offer invaluable help to start-up companies, and to established businesses.

Their concerns included access to capital, regulations stacked in favor of established companies and the need for young, talented employees to be trained for the modern workforce.

One of the participants spoke about the value of simply gathering in a common location to work collectively through business concerns.

"That is something we have tried to address with the creation of the ODU Innovation Center - Norfolk," said Nancy Grden, the executive director of the Old Dominion University Strome Entrepreneurial Center, who introduced Northam at the event.

"Shared spaces are critical for entrepreneurs to stay connected and build a culture of innovation," said April Sciacchitano, co-founder of Mix+Shine Marketing in Virginia Beach.

"These environments not only allow us to learn from one another, they become a launching-point for finding suppliers, clients and building a network that supports business growth. It's exciting to see ODU stepping forward to support business owners in Hampton Roads through the Innovation Center. It's a great investment in our economy and community."

At the end of the session, which was driven past the scheduled hour due to the enthusiasm of participants, Northam suggested revisiting many of the topics raised through periodic meetings with female entrepreneurs.

"We're here to help," he said. "At the state level, we get up in the morning, and we want to help make things better for businesses, and for women-owned businesses."

Elected lieutenant governor of Virginia in 2013, Northam grew up on Virginia's Eastern Shore. He attended Virginia Military Institute and then Eastern Virginia Medical School, and served eight years of active duty in the U.S. Army after graduation.

Upon his return from treating soldiers injured in Desert Storm, Northam began practicing pediatric neurology at Children's Hospital of the King's Daughters in Norfolk. He also serves as assistant professor of Neurology at EVMS and has 17 years of volunteer service as medical director for the Edmarc Hospice for Children in Portsmouth.

As a state senator from 2008 to 2013, Northam's legislative accomplishments included the prohibition of smoking in restaurants, protecting young athletes who have sustained concussions, improving the health of the Chesapeake Bay and shielding first responders from communicable diseases.

The ODU Innovation Center - Norfolk is a partnership between the University's Center for Enterprise Innovation and the City of Norfolk, providing area entrepreneurs with collaboration space and a comprehensive program of services designed to grow a community of scalable entrepreneurial businesses within Norfolk's Innovation Corridor.

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