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April 26, 2023 | Tom Ballard

Moving to a small town opened new opportunities for this entrepreneur

Lisa DiVirgilio Arnold was raised in a small town in New York and always wanted to get out. Now, she lives in Springfield, Tennessee, and has a new venture named Small Town Startup that helps business owners thrive in small towns.

Ask any entrepreneur the impetus that caused them to start their business, and you will get a myriad of answers.

That is certainly the case with Lisa DiVirgilio Arnold, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Small Town Startup located in Springfield just a little north of Nashville. It is a digital marketing agency that also offers incubator and co-working space along with educational workshops for entrepreneurs.

Arnold told us in a recent interview that she grew up in Windsor, NY. “It was a small town (population a little more than 5,800 people), and I always wanted to get out.” After graduating from Binghamton University with a B.A. in English and Quinnipiac University with an M.S. in Journalism, Arnold worked for a series of tech start-ups in large cities and moved to Nashville where she and her husband wanted to purchase a house.

“We kept getting outbid on every offer,” she said as their frustrations mounted. Someone suggested that the couple look a little beyond Music City, and Arnold found an opportunity to purchase a home in the historic district of Springfield, explaining that the area had a town square and the look and feel of Mayberry, the fictional town made famous in The Andy Griffith Show.

“We did not buy that house, but did purchase another one in March 2017,” she said. The morning after the couple moved into to their residence, a neighbor showed up with banana bread to welcome them to Springfield. Soon thereafter, Arnold visited a downtown boutique where the owner noted that there was a lack of resources for entrepreneurs in small towns.

That need that small-town business owners had, their unique challenges, and the opportunity to use her skillsets stuck with her. She was also motivated by the friendliness of the small-town culture.

“We lived in the same house in East Nashville for three years, and I never knew my neighbors,” Arnold says. “I actively chose to move back to a small town and invest in it.”

She launched Small Town Startup in 2018, self-funding it from the outset until revenues began coming in. The business has grown to 50 clients in Robertson County and generated interest from other Middle Tennessee communities such as Lewisburg. Today, Arnold also serves on Springfield’s seven-member Board of Mayor and Aldermen.

Located on the second floor of a building at 101 5th Avenue, Small Town Startup offers digital marketing services that help small-town businesses grow their online community, customer engagement, and sales. The 7,500-square-foot co-working space includes desks, comfortable common areas, and a podcast and photography studio available for clients to create their own content.

“We also have retail incubators on heavy-foot traffic streets ready for you (clients) to test out your business idea in and receive consultation every step of the way,” Arnold says.

One of the unique programs that Small Town Startup offers is the “Junior CEO: Summer Camp.” Now recruiting its fourth cohort, it is a weeklong experience for 16 third to eighth graders who build a business around a challenge and then pitch it in a finale. The next program runs July 10-14.

Arnold lists three challenges that small towns must overcome to grow a thriving retail sector.

  • There must be access to resources that are available and trusted. Many small towns simply lack those resources.
  • There must be a local champion for small business development, not just manufacturing jobs.
  • The disconnect between downtown businesses and the people who own the buildings must be addressed. It is, after all, a partnership.

“As much as every town needs our programs, it’s just as important that they find their own Lisa,” Arnold says.

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