By VANESSA MOORE & MICHELLE MOODY
FredXchange defines itself as “a social platform for community engagement – a cultural intersection of art and commerce, innovation and technology,” Its mission is to work toward helping people start up future businesses and making them successful.
Founded by Christine Goodwin and Matt Armstrong, FredXchange’s goal is to grow an entrepreneurial ecosystem in Fredericksburg
“We have a community of entrepreneurs, startup founders, designers (graphic, web, etcetera), coders, business experts and owners, lawyers, students, marketers, makers and educators,” Goodwin said.
FredXchange has a community of about 500, and it is growing rapidly. According to Goodwin and Armstrong, FredXchange wants to lose the normal barriers that entrepreneurs face when starting a business and speed up business growth.
Through various meet-ups, startup businesses and enterprises can connect and meet with one another to share ideas and meet other like-minded groups and individuals. The variety of events and opportunities FredXchange hosts provides individual startups and groups the ability to come together to form a close community. This allows for the networking that’s so often necessary and beneficial for businesses that are getting off the ground.
The available events include Open Coffee, which meets every Friday morning, the Founders Ale, FredDev, FXBG Design and FredX. These events take place on the first, second, third and fourth Tuesdays of the month respectively. While Open Coffee and Founders Ale are events that are open to all startups, so that they can meet and discuss new ideas and connect with others, FredDev, FXBG Design and FredX are events directed more toward particular groups.
FredDev is intended for developers, programmers and designers to meet one another and discuss things related to technology and design, whereas FXBG Design is more focused on bringing graphic designers and other creatively inclined groups and individuals together. FredX is focused around the startup community itself, and is geared toward gathering interested parties to consider how the startup community can progress, grow and do more to support up-and-coming businesses and the like.
Open Coffee takes place every Friday morning in the campus center at 1514 College Avenue, from 8 to 9:30 a.m. The owners of the building are supporters of Fredxchange and are entrepreneurs themselves. It is open and inviting, with everyone mingling and fraternizing over coffee for the first thirty minutes before either delving into various presentations highlighting certain organizations and groups, or holding informative lessons covering information that would be useful to budding businesses.
The businesses in attendance span a broad variety of services, from Adrian Silversmith’s venture into the gourmet peanut butter and jelly sandwich profession to Barbara Gustavson’s vocation of executive coaching. Representatives from university-affiliated businesses such as the La Ceiba Micro-Finance Institution and the Virginia Small Business Development Center were also present.
The common factor amongst all of the businesses and organizations is their strong drive to contribute to the Fredericksburg community with the skills they have.
“Anyone, even just the curious, are always welcome to any of our events,” Goodwin said.
Adrian and Casey Silversmith, the husband and wife duo behind gourmet peanut butter and jelly sandwich venture “Sprelly” are looking into integrating their cuisine into school meal plans, and thereby make their services easily available to students.
At Open Coffee, the founders provided samples of their custom peanut butters in salted butterscotch and white chocolate almond butter flavors, just two of the ten custom flavors available thus far. They currently sell at farmer’s markets on the weekends and are looking to expand and sell at the “Made in Virginia Store” on Caroline St. as well.
Sprelly participated in the “Made in Fred VA” competition, which Adrian Silversmith described as the “local version of the TV show Shark Tank.” They won the competition’s People’s Choice Award. He describes their business as “Comfort food, fast food style,” emphasizing the customizability of their selections with an explanation of the businesses’ name – “Your spread, your jelly – Sprelly.” He and his wife were festively dressed as peanut butter and jelly for Halloween.
The 100 percent student run non-profit organization La Ceiba was present at the most recent Open Coffee event as well, where they presented their organization and their goals in providing loans to people living in poverty in Honduras.
They are the only organization that does not take collateral from those they lend money to – instead, they keep in close contact with those they loan to, striving to build relationships and form “trust between loanees and students,” as explained by Shannon Clunie, a senior spanish major at the University of Mary Washington. La Ceiba representatives also made it clear that they are always open to the involvement of interested students, especially as their client base grows larger.
Susan Bell, representative of the Small Business Development Center, discussed the assistance that is available for those looking to start new businesses through the SBDC, which includes classes and free consulting with marketing experts, real estate agents and bankers.
Bell discussed the technical aspects of venturing into entrepreneurship, covering things like how one might go about defining their market, what it might cost to get started, as well as helpful, relevant information, in hopes of helping people start and run successful businesses.
“We don’t try to kill anybody’s dreams, but we do try to keep it real,” Bell said.
The overall feel of the meetings is one of involvement, desire to succeed and desire to help others succeed, being very much focused on giving back to the community. Whenever anyone expressed a need for assistance in any area within their business, other businesses with the appropriate assets readily spoke up and offered their resources. Efforts to collaborate were common and near-immediate, and everyone gained through all the pooled resources.
These pooled resources might be of particular interest to business majors, or students that are interested in starting businesses, as the information and the networking opportunities available through FredXchange are numerous and free of charge. Those less interested in the business aspect of this collection of entrepreneurs can involve themselves in supporting businesses that interest them or that provide services or goods that they are interested in.
There are no fees or dues required to attend any of the meetings, as it is not a membership, and UMW students are encouraged to show up.
“Their perspectives are very important to most startups and existing businesses, there are opportunities for getting involved with local startups, and we have worked with several student-founded startups in the past,” Goodwin said. “We would like to see less people leaving UMW after they graduate and choosing instead to work for cool companies and staying here.”
Goodwin emphasized that FredXchange is interested in keeping local talent in the area, as they would like to “see successful founders re-investing locally and funding new founders.”
FredXchange is also affiliated with various enterprises and groups within the area, including SkillUp VA, Wishstars, Fredericksburg All Ages, Blackstone Coffee Company and Germanna Community College.