Downtown Hopewell Partnership awards funds to local startups

Downtown Hopewell Partnership awards funds to local startups


One of the winners of the Homegrown for Hopewell program has plans for an ice cream and burger restaurant.

Jonathan Montiel and his business partners Phillip and Lexi Hughes bought a building in downtown Hopewell and then asked community members what they needed. Their answer: more restaurants.

That’s how City Point Ice Cream & Burgers was born, and it’s why the trio think they won the $15,000 first prize in the Homegrown for Hopewell business pitch competition this spring.

Rather than asking the judges to buy into a personal dream, Montiel and Phillip Hughes said their business showed up to the May 26 pitch competition with a solution to a community problem. They plan to use the prize money to purchase some much-needed kitchen equipment.

City Point Ice Cream & Burgers and two other businesses were the winners of the HomeGrown for Hopewell competition, the Downtown Hopewell Partnership announced in late June. The other winners were: Studio One Salon, which won a $12,000 prize and leasing incentives; Brain to Box, which won $10,000 and a property stipulation; and Box 5 Cabaret Theatre, a community dinner theater troupe, won $3,000. Winners also received a yearlong free membership to the Hopewell-Prince George Chamber of Commerce, and ongoing business counseling and technical support from the Hopewell Downtown Partnership.

Funding for the program came from a community business launch grant from the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development and the city of Hopewell. The city was one of seven recipients to receive grant funding from DHCD’s community business launch grant, which aims to spur economic development and job creation efforts around the state.

The competition attracted 109 applicants — half of which completed a virtual business boot camp held at Virginia State University. Of those, 30 businesses chose to continue to the pitch competition. They were advised by existing area small business owners and professional consultants. Then, 12 of those competed for funding in the pitch contest in front of a panel of judges.

Floyd Simmons launched Brain to Box after running into problems accessing an affordable commercial kitchen while trying to scale up his granola-making business. Now, instead of renting a commercial kitchen, he is opening one up and offering access to it to other growing small businesses, while also sharing what he’s learned from his own experiences. He hopes Brain to Box will serve as an incubator for similar businesses. With his $10,000 prize, Simmons plans to make a down payment on the kitchen property, freeing up money for other expenses such as kitchen equipment.

“I want people to get access to the information I got, so they can begin that journey instead of the four years it took me,” he said. The 4,000-square-foot kitchen building will have room for about four businesses to work simultaneously, and he hopes to rent it to approximately 30 businesses each month.

Heather Lynn, executive director of the Downtown Hopewell Partnership, wants to find a way to make the Homegrown for Hopewell program sustainable. There’s a need for it, she said, because downtown Hopewell has open storefronts and the program can help entrepreneurs fill those spaces with their fledgling businesses.

“Homegrown for Hopewell is proving that there is an immense amount of creative energy in the area, as well as a need for additional programming and access for capital,” she said. “Our board hopes to find innovative ways to build on the Community Business Launch Grant with our partners and keep startup resources flowing into the business community in Hopewell.”

Assistant Editor Katherine Schulte contributed to this story.

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