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FredXchange: Building a Startup Community in the Fredericksburg Region

By Susan Larson

Every Friday morning a growing number of people gather for coffee and conversation. It’s jokingly called Happy Hour, and the networking is more like a reunion of long-time friends. Conversations are so animated, it takes organizers several minutes to corral everyone to seats for the morning’s presentation.

This is FredXchange Open Coffee.

Just over a year ago, entrepreneurs Matt Armstrong and Christine Goodwin launched FredXchange from a desire to create the opportunity for people to live where they work. Their goal was to build an entrepreneurial community where people could share ideas, find moral support and barter resources.

“We had a deep, deep, deep sense of the problem, and for both of us it was unsatisfactory to be community members that weren’t trying to solve the problem,” Armstrong said. The problem? A majority of the Fredericksburg region’s talented human capital commute out of the region everyday.

“We have one of the largest –- if not the largest –- out commuting populations anywhere in the nation,” Armstrong said. “I know what’s its like to do that, and I feel the impact it takes on the quality of life in our community is unacceptable.”

He and Goodwin began brainstorming. They saw untapped potential. “Economically it made sense to me that we’re too dependent on the government and we need to diversify,” Armstrong said.

“We’re looking at a Fredericksburg that in many ways embodies an old economy. We can fight to protect that economy or we can lean into the future and transform our region so we remain relevant and a place where people can live.”

Goodwin had started her own company in 1999, on the eve of the dot-com bust.

“I managed to pry through for a couple years, but could never grow. I did not have resources I could access,” she said.

After ten years back in the corporate world, she realized the climate had changed. “The market for startups and the idea of a startup were more well socialized than in 1999,” Goodwin said. The Internet had helped, providing open source resources that help small businesses.

“When you look at the advances of technology, especially just in the last five years, what it means to be an economy went from being a country to a state to a local municipality to one person can create an economy. Local businesses are the backbone of our economy nationally and locally,” she said.

The first big success for FredXchange came in January 2014, with the first Startup Weekend in Fredericksburg.

Startup Weekend is a global movement of business leaders and entrepreneurs helping others share ideas and start a business in 54 hours. January’s event helped launch, for example, Fredericksburg entrepreneur Adrian Silversmith’s company Sprelly, “a mobile eatery which specializes in gourmet Peanut Butter & Jelly sandwiches and crepes.” Silversmith will be opening a brick and mortar location in the fall at 920 Caroline St. in Fredericksburg.

A third Startup Weekend is scheduled September 26 – 28, 2014. Registration is available online.

Germanna Community College has been a big supporter of FredXchange. “We’ve gotten this far down range because of their carte blanche participation,” Armstrong said. Germanna partnered with Startup Weekend and has launched a workshop series geared to entrepreneurs.

In its first year, FredXchange grew from two people to some 700 participating in more than 100 different meetups. “Our big goal is to create critical mass quickly,” Goodwin said.

FredXchange meetups include:

Founder’s Ale, a 5:30 – 7:30 p.m. gathering of entrepreneurs and local startup business founders on the first Tuesday of every month at Capital Ale House, 917 Caroline St., Fredericksburg.

FredDev, a 6:30 – 8:30 p.m. meetup geared toward developers and designers on the second Tuesday of every month at Deedod Studio, 3308 Bourbon St., Fredericksburg.

FxbgDesign, a 6:30 – 8:30 p.m. meetup for or local designers and creatives on the third Tuesday of every month in Studio 15 at LibertyTown Arts Workshop, 916 Liberty St., Fredericksburg.

FredX, a 6:30 – 8:30 p.m. discussion on building a sustainable startup community in the region on the fourth Tuesday of every month at Deedod Studio, 3308 Bourbon St., Fredericksburg.

Open Coffee, 8 – 9:30 a.m. every Friday at The Center, 1514 College Ave., Fredericksburg.

Goodwin said the Fredericksburg area is capable of transformation. “If you’re starting a small business, you’re a startup. It’s easier to do when you have a community that can help you – a community that can point you toward resources and help you think differently about the business model you have, or your value proposition or where your customers are.”

“It’s great being in a room full of people that get it,” Goodwin said. “We have formidable lifestyle obstacles telling us not to change. But you don’t have to quit your job. You just have to know how to start.” FredXchange provides opportunities to do just that … and more.

For more information on FredXchange, visit these online resources:

FredXchange website
FredXchange on Facebook
FredXchange on Twitter @FredXchange

See these stories for more about Fredericksburg’s growing entrepreneurial community.

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