Scott Ewing Troublemaker at Appalachian Investor Alliance

Grit, determination, ingenuity. These are words that describe many of the people who shaped my upbringing in western Virginia at the base of large mountains covered in a forest so expansive that I never found its other side.

Many people have read or watched the movie Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance. It describes the slow decline of Appalachia in a way I didn’t experience growing up. In my small town – 11,000 people in the 1970s – with two factories as the main providers of income, we looked forward to city-sponsored fireworks, Friday night high school football, proms, parades and more. But by the time I came back in my 30s, the city center was barely holding on, the retailers having given up to the Walmart Super Center. Some restaurants held on, but not the more upscale ones. One of the two sources of income had gone out of business and is now an EPA superfund site.

The 2010 census found 5,961 people in Covington, a little over half what it was when I was growing up there.

Hope for Appalachia

This paragraph from Appalachian Investors Alliance (AIA)  perfectly clarifies how they are bringing hope to the determined ingenious, and gritty entrepreneurs in Covington and towns like it all over this part of the country.

The Appalachian region is known for tough, blue collar people who for generations have beaten the odds to overcome unforgiving landscapes and harsh conditions using grit, determination, and ingenuity. As it looks to re-invent for the next chapter of the region, Appalachia is collectively harnessing the power of the entrepreneurial mindset to re-imagine the future while paying homage to its rich history.

In 2018, the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) approached Scott and his partners to create a not-for-profit to “organize and professionalize” angel investors all throughout Appalachia and help to guide their investments into solid ventures in the area.

The ARC asked Scott’s team (AIA) if they could do this at scale. The answer was yes, and AIA put together:

  • A common set of operating procedures
  • A common set of due diligence standards
  • A way to share deals, as well as capital

Angel investing has been viewed as a “seat of the pants” part of the investment industry. AIA invented what they call Micro venture funds. In other words, structure and consistency.

Since starting AIA in 2018, over $10M of their investors’ private capital has gone into Appalachian startups. And that has encouraged other money to come in on top of AIA investors in a multiplier effect.

From the website –

AIA is applying a new set of best practices for venture funding in the heartland of Appalachia that is transforming how Appalachian startups are being planned, launched, and funded.

Helping Appalachian entrepreneurs understand the full ecosystem

Scott describes how AIA started out as an investor-focused organization. Then some of their investors suggested they begin training entrepreneurs seeking Angel funding to understand what it takes to get an investor interested in them.

While AIA helps their entrepreneurs into the next step, Series A, they don’t lead that round. They like to “ride along” to preserve their investment in their companies, even into Series B.

One of AIA’s main goals is “start here, stay here.” They want to keep the investment in Appalachia so they can keep providing jobs and keep the smaller towns healthy.

Meanwhile, back in Covington

The City of Covington has formalized a public-private partnership with a drone technology company. Current plans are to put it in the empty elementary school I attended, about 2 miles from my neighborhood.

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