WOODSTOCK — The Cherokee Office of Economic Development is starting a mentoring program for businesses and organizations to partner with entrepreneurs and startup companies.

COED announced the launch of North Atlanta Venture Mentoring Service, or NAV, Monday morning, and celebrated with a gathering of Cherokee County business owners and local leaders Monday afternoon.

NAV is a regional mentorship program that was developed with training from Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Venture Mentoring Service. VMS is now in 23 countries with 90 sister programs. According to COED, NAV is the first program of its kind in Georgia.

Rather than one-on-one, NAV takes a team-based approach to mentorship. Entrepreneurs or “ventures,” as the program calls them, are assembled in groups that are paired with multiple mentors. So far, the program has 20 mentors and three small businesses.

“What we love about this program is it gives local support to our startups, but it has a regional impact,” said COED President Misti Martin.

The first three ventures in the program’s pilot group have connections to The Circuit: Alma Coffee, Flux Ice Cream, and Half Machine.

Alma Coffee, owned by husband-wife team Harry and Leticia Hutchins, is a fifth generation Honduras coffee farm operating their first roastery in Cherokee and first retail cafe at The Circuit. Flux Ice Cream is a Woodstock-based ice cream startup specializing in seasonal, local, handcrafted and chef-inspired ice cream and sorbet and is led by co-founders Chef Bobby King and Eric Velji. Half Machine, led by co-founders Jim Nichols and Drew Davis, is a digital marketing agency focused on growing businesses through the power of storytelling through film.

Jonathan Chambers, who helped develop NAV, said the program has been in the works for years in response to the needs of local business owners.

“When Misti (Martin) approached me, when I started, one of the first things she said to grow, apart from the Circuit, was, let’s build a mentorship program. So I spent almost two years listening to all the entrepreneurs around here and in (the Circuit,)” he said. “The common thread was that exact same stuff, I need somebody to help me, which is just an entrepreneur’s way of saying, I need a mentor.”

The program is still reviewing applications for ventures, which will be matched with a team of three to four mentors. The mentors represent a variety of backgrounds, including technology, real estate, marketing and government.

Also at the gathering, Martin announced the office’s new Entrepreneur of the Year Award, and the inaugural award winners: Reformation Brewery co-founders CEO Spencer Nix and brewmaster Nick Downs.

Reformation Brewery’s research facility and public taproom opened in downtown Woodstock last year, and earlier this year the brewery opened its relocated warehouse, with a production site as well as a taproom, at The Mill on Etowah in Canton. According to COED, Reformation is also expected to open a new location at The Eddy, an 82-acre mixed-use development in Cobb County.

State Rep. Michael Caldwell, R-Woodstock, announced a statewide resolution to officially recognize July 1 as Entrepreneurship Day in Georgia. His business, Black Airplane, is another start-up that used to be based in the Circuit.

Funding the NAV program was accomplished through the Cherokee By Choice initiative – a five-year results-driven public/private partnership aimed at reinforcing Cherokee’s role as a leader in economic development.

To learn more about the NAV program, visit NorthAtlantaVMS.com. The program will be accepting applications for future mentors and ventures after the 2019 cohort launches this summer.

Shannon is a reporter covering education, city governments, crime, features, religion and other local news. She is a graduate of Young Harris College and currently lives in unincorporated Woodstock.

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