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The Advantage Opportunity Fund started in 2007 with $40,000 and thus far has provided seed-stage loans to 26 high-growth startups in the region

You’re an entrepreneur starting a venture with high-growth potential. You have a promising business plan and the drive and enthusiasm needed to take your product or idea to market. The problem? Credit cards are maxed out. You’ve borrowed all you can from friends and family (still managing to keep your relationships intact). The banks aren’t ready to talk to you – and don’t even think about angel investors.

Enter the AdvantageWest Opportunity Fund, an evergreen loan started by AdvantageWest to provide high-growth startups in Western North Carolina with the early-stage funding needed to launch or expand their business.

AdvantageWest, the regional economic development partnership serving North Carolina’s 23 westernmost counties, launched the initiative in 2007. Six years later, AdvantageWest has leveraged its initial investment of $40,000 to provide more than $1.1 million in seed-stage loans to a diverse mix of 26 high-growth startups in the region.

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Most recently these include CabHound, a Jackson County-based developer of a patent-pending smartphone application to connect passengers and taxicabs drivers; Rightline Gear, a Buncombe County manufacturer of car-top carrier bags and truck and SUV tents; Noble Cider, bringing together the Henderson County apple-growing industry with the region’s craft brewing industry; and News Talk 50, a Western North Carolina media company.

Other AOF loan recipients include clean energy companies, furniture-makers, food and natural products businesses and a company that specializes in building products. As of June 2012, additional investment of $9.6 million had been attracted to Western North Carolina and 104 jobs created by AOF loan recipients.

The goal of AOF is to provide early capital to strategically position companies within AdvantageWest’s service area for sustainable and fundable operations, and to prepare them to be capitalized by other financial funding sources, such as banks, angel investors or venture capital. To that end, recipients also participate in entrepreneurial training, coaching, and development through a formal program managed by the Technology Commercialization Center at Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College and by AdvantageWest’s Blue Ridge Entrepreneurial Council (BREC).

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Applying for the Advantage Opportunity Fund is a process that involves much more than simply filling out a form, said AdvantageWest President & CEO Scott Hamilton. “We’re not just looking at credit ratings; we examine your business model and your business plan. Is there a market for your business? Is there someone out there willing to pay for what you are offering? Have you demonstrated that you can excel at some level with your business or business idea?”

“Early-stage capital is some of the most challenging for an entrepreneur to find,” added Matt Raker, AdvantageWest vice president for entrepreneurship. “With the Advantage Opportunity Fund, we’re helping entrepreneurs to build great companies and create quality jobs in Western North Carolina.”

To learn more about the Advantage Opportunity Fund, contact Raker at mraker@awnc.org or (828) 687-7234.

-Press release from AdvantageWest, shared April 17.

Angie Newsome

Angie Newsome is the executive director and editor of Carolina Public Press. Contact her at (828) 774-5290 or e-mail her at anewsome@carolinapublicpress.org.

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