Blacksburg lawyer, James Creekmore, wants to make Blacksburg the entrepreneurship capital of Virginia. He’s already underway.
He told me as we met in the conference room of his downtown office, “We’re taking our firm in the direction of recognizing that our niche here is helping start-up businesses. We’re helping entrepreneurial and forward thinking companies get off the ground and get a good start.”
I knew from a previous conversation that although he’d been in the area for ten years, during most of that time most of his business was elsewhere. “That’s right,” he agreed. “We did a lot of work in the coal and gas industry. That work changed dramatically and the climate for the production and sale of coal and gas in America was diminished. Our client sold all of its coalmines in Virginia. So our business with them diminished, and our focus shifted towards emerging technology companies, start-up companies and more intellectual property work.
“We had three people working full-time on coal and gas litigations for three years. Once that work moved on, we moved with a vengeance towards entrepreneurial companies.”
Creekmore became an active participant in the Virginia Tech organizations that helped entrepreneurs. They were in contact with young, emergent companies in the valley.
“There was not a place outside the university that provided hands-on mentoring and tutelage for business. There was no physical place off-campus. These young businesses needed training and education.
“My family had always been in business, so I learned how to run businesses from an early age. Emerging businesses are moving very fast (with their product idea) and don’t have time to set up sales, personnel, taxes, benefits and inventory. We saw a couple of companies that had product ideas where they couldn’t keep up with their market. Before they produced their prototype, other companies beat them to it. It is too much for a young company to do at one time.
“We began focusing on helping these new companies to structure sound fundamentals. Then they could focus on what they produced.”
“Do you have a model for what you’re doing?” I queried.
“I’m sort of making it up. I’ve read a lot of business plans and protocols for incubators and accelerators. We have a co-working facility where different businesses can rent a desk or use an unreserved desk space and work. Otherwise, they’d be working at home or in a coffee shop. This has Wi-Fi, a printer, paper, pens, paper clips, binders, a kitchen with coffee service and other amenities. We provide the physical tools so they can focus on their product development.”
He explained that they also provide educational programming. Lawyers. Accountants. Bankers. Investors. Insurance people. These folks will provide tutelage so the entrepreneur can focus on their product.
“Entrepreneurs need fabric, agreements on paper, which become the glue that hold their companies together. If it’s just a guy and a buddy, sooner or later they will have a problem that will be difficult to unravel. You plan for a divorce when you are getting along.”
James is particularly motivated to diversify the businesses in downtown Blacksburg, and to lessen the dependency of students with such businesses as bars and restaurants. He’d like to see vacant downtown spaces filled with start-up and technology companies. “This business community is very receptive to and supportive of new business ideas that benefit everybody. People here want to work in tandem, as ‘we.’ Everybody knows each other. People want others to succeed. There are older folks who are trickling down knowledge. There is trickle up of talent from Tech. We’ve got the perfect marriage. I’m the guy in the middle, working to bring them together.
“I really like downtown Blacksburg. We have great local shops and restaurants. We need them focused on servicing each other, apart from the students. I’m creating ‘food courts’ for businesses. The older, more experienced people have been completely supportive. They’re coming to me. This was surprising to me.”
“What do you want to see ten years from now in downtown Blacksburg?” I asked.
“I want to see every building, every storefront, filled with something. Lawyers. Beauticians. Doctors. Restaurants. Shops. Foot traffic makes the difference. Nobody wants empty buildings downtown.
“Every five years my law firm goes in a different direction. I don’t sit around and watch TV in the evening. I’ve learned to adapt and charge forward. I have what I call ‘professional ADHD.’
“We can’t wait for someone to bring jobs to our community,” he said. “We’ve got to make them here.”
— Michael Abraham is a businessman and author. He was raised in Christiansburg and lives in Blacksburg.