Entrepreneurship training program for people of color expands

The Walker Program, established in August 2020, has helped jumpstart several successful POC-led businesses.


The new Walker Program office will make it easier than ever to reach out and provide resources to people of color interested in starting a business, board member Sascha Goluboff said. Already, the program has helped seven businesses. Photo by Elena Lee, ’25.

Catherine McCurdy

The Walker Program, a training program for people of color seeking to open their own businesses, has a new office in downtown Lexington. It’s nestled near the intersection of West Washington and Jefferson streets. 

The office is an exciting expansion for the program and reflects the success the group has had since its launch in August 2020, people affiliated with the program said.

The program was initially modeled on the “Launch Lex” program organized by Main Street Lexington in 2018, according to the program’s website. So far, the program has helped seven businesses launch or expand.

The Walker Program’s goal is to help people of color establish and improve their businesses in Lexington. It offers a source of opportunity for those that haven’t been able to start their own business before. 

One first-time business owner the program has helped is Trevor Stores, owner of SkyBar, a speakeasy-style bar in the basement of Blue Sky Bakery. Stores said he credits some of his business’s success to the Walker Program.

“I sat in on a few of their classes on how to start and run a business, because I was offered to do that [with SkyBar],” he said. “[The Walker Program] has taught me marketing, it’s taught me numbers, it’s taught me targets for marketing. It’s taught me a lot and has been really helpful.” 

The new office will be a home base for the group as they continue to work with entrepreneurs and aspiring business owners in Lexington and Rockbridge County. 

Stores said that in the past year, the Walker Program has helped establish a hair salon, Inspired to Enhance, and a balloon shop owned by people of color.

Now, the program is working on setting up a photography studio and mobile carwash, Stores said.

In order to help establish the businesses under their wing, Walker Program instructors provide training, support, innovation and inspiration to aspiring business owners. Stores said he thinks the Walker Program is an effective way for first-time business owners to understand all the moving parts of operating a business.

“The Walker Program is super effective if you want to start up a small business, especially [if you are] a person of color or someone in Black community,” he said. “They help tremendously with funding, and they sit down with you and listen to your ideas and help get you going. [Program leaders] help you budget and hire staff.”

Sascha Goluboff, a member of the Walker Program’s board and Director of Community Based Learning at Washington and Lee, said the new office will help both the program’s operations and the people it serves. 

She said the new office is a physical marker of the growing support system for Black-owned businesses in Lexington.

“It’s great to have a physical space downtown,” Goluboff said. “It just shows the centrality of the program and the opportunities that it has, and gets people knowing the program exists.”

In addition to the new office, the program has offered internships to Washington and Lee undergraduates and law students, as well as students at Southern Virginia University, Goluboff said. The program is currently recruiting interns with a background in business for summer 2022.

Goluboff teaches a community-based learning course, CBL-100, on the history of Black businesses in Lexington. She said the community support surrounding the Walker Program is evidence that Black entrepreneurship is still essential to the city.

“Black entrepreneurs are not just the past of Lexington but are also important for the present and future of our town,” she said.

The Walker Program’s expansion and success is just the starting point for a growing community of minority entrepreneurs in Lexington, Stores said. He said the Walker Program is currently the only institutional support available for POC-led businesses in the Rockbridge area.

“There is definitely more that can be done, like having more programs like the Walker Program,” Store said.