The long-running Business Alliance in Northern Virginia that once hosted the quarterly Grubstake Breakfast venture capital competition will likely cease to exist in its current form after a years-long hunt for financial support.
Members of the group’s board are now poised to join a newly formed entrepreneurship council at the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce, where officials hope to expand programs for the area’s entrepreneurs.
The Business Alliance’s demise comes as the Washington region has become crowded with events at which young companies can vie for start-up capital. There’s the Mid-Atlantic Venture Association’s Capital Connection, Fortify.vc’s Distilled Intelligence, and Cooley’s Capital Call, to name a few.
“If you look at the programs in entrepreneurship and the things that are happening, it’s a different landscape from when our organization originally started,” said Rodney Lusk, the alliance’s chairman. “It would be ideal if the organization could continue, but at this point I would say that is probably unlikely.”
The Business Alliance began 24 years ago at George Mason University, where it acted as an intermediary between the school and the surrounding business community. Over the years that role became less necessary, and in the face of budget constraints, the university terminated the alliance’s funding.
The cut meant the elimination of salaries for three staff positions, including the executive director, as well as office space on campus. University and alliance officials place the support between $150,000 and $200,000.
“Since 2009 when George Mason made a decision to pull their funding, we’ve been at somewhat of a crossroads,” said Lusk, who is also the director of national marketing for the Fairfax County Economic Development Authority. “That was a pretty substantial change for us.”
Lusk and others said the board of directors attempted to keep the organization afloat, searching for financial backers to fund the staff positions or another business group to take over the events. Several organizations considered doing so, but ultimately declined.
“There continues to be a solid number of quality, early-stage companies in the D.C. metro region who are looking for capital,” said Judy Costello, the former executive director. She now serves as deputy director of Maryland’s Biotechnology Center.
The exact nature of the partnership with the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce, and whether events such as the Grubstake Breakfast will continue, is still undefined.
“We didn’t take [the partnership] on saying we’re absolutely going to do the Grubstake program that was traditionally done in the past,” said Jim Corcoran, the chamber’s president. “It will be determined by the new entrepreneurship council what the programs will be.”