YWCA Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia Awarded $20,000 in Support of Student Entrepreneurship

by Billy Chandler

The grant—one of only 13 awarded across the country—will fund a pitch competition in partnership with Emory & Henry College School of Business.

YWCA Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia has been awarded a $20,000 grant in support of small business and entrepreneurship. Sponsored by the TJX Foundation, Inc., and offered through YWCA USA, the competitive grant will fund a student pitch contest, with cash prizes for first, second, and third place.

YWCA will conduct the pitch competition in partnership with Emory & Henry College School of Business. Following a specialized cohort of YWCA’s WE360 entrepreneurship training course, student teams will present and defend their business ideas to a panel of local professionals. Winning teams receive not only prize dollars but a free six-month lease to incubate in Town Square Center for Advancement (TSCA) in Glade Spring, Va.

YWCA NETN and SWVA CEO Kathy Waugh is pleased with this new development, which she sees as aligning directly with the organization’s goals, especially in terms of attracting women and BIPOC students to the competition.

“A key focus of YWCA is the support of younger generations through a variety of avenues that foster future success,” Waugh noted. “This pitch contest provides the perfect vehicle not only to encourage young entrepreneurship in our rural and minority populations but to seed their ideas with funding and offer them a space to develop their businesses with supports.”

YWCA Senior Manager of Public Relations and Engagement Leslie Peterson, who developed the concept for the student pitch contest, is focused on the expansion of YWCA programs into Southwest Virginia and on creating collaborative efforts in support of family and community resiliency. She sees the grant-funded competition as just one example of how YWCA can facilitate collective engagement that enhances regional resiliency.

“We’re excited to partner with Emory & Henry and other institutions of higher learning on projects such as this,” said Peterson. “These students are the future of our rural communities, and opportunities such as this are important not only to their personal success but to the economic success of the region.”

The YWCA WE360 student course and pitch competition will take place during the Spring 2024 semester at Emory & Henry College, with prizes awarded in April. Throughout the semester and beyond, students will be supported through Project YES Business and Innovation Center, a YWCA NETN and SWVA partner initiative at TSCA committed to providing professional business supports to local entrepreneurs.

YWCA Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia is on a mission to eliminate racism, empower women, stand up for social justice, assist families and strengthen their community. They are part of an international movement serving over 2 million in the United States and 25 million worldwide. For comprehensive information about this important work and the programs under their Family Resilience Plan, as well as partnership opportunities such as Project YES, please visit www.ywcatnva.org.

“We’re excited to partner with Emory & Henry and other institutions of higher learning on projects such as this. These students are the future of our rural communities, and opportunities such as this are important not only to their personal success but to the economic success of the region.” —Leslie Peterson, YWCA Senior Manager of Public Relations and Engagement

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