Overview

Bridgeway Capital’s Alliance for Creative Rural Economies (ACRE) brings creativity-driven economic and community development opportunities to rural areas across Western Pennsylvania and Northern West Virginia. ACRE supports creative entrepreneurs by developing intentional cohorts of creative businesses that learn, grow, and connect over the course of a year (and beyond). ACRE Cohorts are based in each ACRE “Place” and offer business education programs for creative entrepreneurs who are driven to achieve lasting growth. In partnership with local and regional businesses and non-profits, ACRE also works to increase the visibility of each unique ACRE community and the people who call it home.

Main Goals

Through an application process, Bridgeway and regional ACRE partners select 10 to 15 creative entrepreneurs per community and guide them through an intensive yet supportive yearlong program. 

ACRE participants will:

  • Connect to creative business owners in their own community and build lasting relationships.
  • Hear from experts on topics like legal considerations, business finances, and successful marketing strategies.
  • Develop an actionable business plan that positions business owners to access capital through grants and loans, hire, or reach other business goals.
  • Access meaningful market opportunities through sponsorships and local partnerships
  • Gain visibility for themselves, their business, and their community through the ACRE website, activities, and promotion.

Activities

BUSINESS SKILLS AND NETWORKING FOR CREATIVES

ACRE provides tailored skill-building, business planning, and peer connections through a cohort-based learning model. Along with one-on-one business coaching, ACRE Cohort members are invited to join webinars and workshops specifically tailored to the needs and goals of the businesses, along with in-person networking opportunities to connect and grow together.

STORIES FROM A REGION

ACRE utilizes creative economies as essential elements of regional revitalization in Appalachia. To accomplish this, ACRE promotes the region and its creative entrepreneurs through an engaging website, press releases, social media, community events, and other activities. ACRE becomes part of a larger story about the strength of the creative economy and resilience of small businesses throughout Western Pennsylvania and Northern West Virginia.

CAPITAL AS CATALYST

Bridgeway Capital, and its Creative Business Accelerator (CBA) program, offer flexible and patient financing tailored to the needs of creative businesses. For ACRE cohort participants, capital readiness and the utility of various forms of investment will be front and center with programming. Capital is positioned as a catalyst to bring business plans to life and activate new and improved entrepreneurial skills.

“Bridgeway's with ACRE is to support dynamic creative entrepreneurs who are ready to grow in new and exciting ways. The ACRE program fills a critical gap in regional business support resources, specifically for those interested in the creative economy, and empowers them to scale their business through education, network-building, and connections to capital."

Adam Kenney Managing Director of Programs | Bridgeway Capital

Outcomes

AN ACTIONABLE PLAN

Participants will graduate with an actionable business plan and an in-depth understanding of how to use it. Whether they’re seeking capital, launching a website, or accessing new markets, a business plan is the roadmap that will take participants to their next big goal.

A CONNECTED COMMUNITY

Participants share a common desire to connect to other creative entrepreneurs, develop stronger business practices, and thrive in ways that support their community. Through the ACRE cohort, they will build lasting connections, collaborations, and support that lasts well beyond the program.

SPACE TO GROW

Participants have the momentum and enthusiasm to grow their businesses in ways that create a positive impact on their community. Whether their goal is to scale from a home studio into a larger space or open a new storefront, ACRE offers the support, resources, and network to help make goals a reality.

ACCESS TO CAPITAL

The CBA at Bridgeway streamlines the pathway from an interesting idea to a funded project. Participants will graduate with an actionable plan and access to patient and flexible capital that empowers them to pursue opportunities and overcome challenges.

Regional Partner

Touchstone Center for Crafts

Located in the beautiful Laurel Highlands, Touchstone Center for Crafts sits on a 150-acre wooded campus where artists and makers can immerse themselves in skill-building workshops for all levels. As a founding ACRE Partner who helped develop the initial 2022 ACRE Cohort in Johnstown, PA, Touchstone provides an opportunity for ACRE participants to hone their craft while making lasting connections with their peers. Additionally, Touchstone’s campus is a gathering place for ACRE meet-ups, where cohorts from different cities can gather together to learn from each other and enjoy the beautiful wooded campus. As a key ACRE partner, Touchstone will also provide professional development workshops to assist ACRE cohorts develop their skills as teaching artists and workshop providers.

Regional Partner

Handmade Arcade

As a longtime partner of the Creative Business Accelerator, Handmade Arcade provides market opportunities for makers of all skill levels. In 2023, ACRE is sponsoring 20 tables for Cohort participants to join in the annual Handmade Winter Market, which brings in over 10,000 shoppers. ACRE participants will learn about booth preparation, sales techniques, and other key skills through workshops provided by Handmade Arcade as well as have all booth fees waived for participation.