Entrepreneurship program gives free rein to student’s vision for horse tourism

Mike Still • Nov 27, 2019 at 8:00 PM

POUND — Kendra Stanley has wondered for a while how she could combine a lifetime working with horses, her side photography business and a desire to work and live in far Southwest Virginia.

As a student in the entrepreneurship program at The University of Virginia’s College at Wise, Stanley is turning that question into a business plan using her experience and an eye on a resource in abundance in Wise County — old surface mine sites.

“I know hundreds of people who go horse trail riding,” Stanley said as she looked over a site near the Red Onion State Prison outside of Pound. “My father has led many groups of riders in this area, and there’s a demand for that here.”

UVa-Wise entrepreneurship professor Shankar Naskar said Stanley’s vision and experience gave her a strong advantage when she developed her idea into a horse tourism and event site proposal that won her the college’s Cavs Tank business concept competition earlier this year.

Stanley’s success in Cavs Tank with her idea for “Appalachia Gateway Ranch” led to her success in the college’s Entrepreneurship Concept Competition.

Before taking her first class with Naskar, Stanley said she already had an idea of what elements she wanted to combine into a local business.

“I do a mix of things,” Stanley said. “I help raise and train horses, I give riding lessons and I have a photography business. Besides working with my dad on horse rides, I’d also seen how many people in the region want to have barn weddings.”

“When she came into class the first time, when I sat down and talked with her, I found she was passionate about this,” Naskar said. “This was key to her plan.”

“When I told Professor Naskar about my ideas, he said, ‘Turn your ideas into an experience.’ “ Stanley said

That experience, in Stanley’s developing plan, includes a horse ring for competitions and shows, an event stage, access to riding trails and scenery and accommodations for riders who bring trailers and recreational vehicles or camping gear.

“Ideas are no good unless you create an opportunity, and that’s what she’s doing here,” Naskar said

Stanley has looked at several sites along the Wise and Dickenson counties border area, and she said nearby Jefferson National Forest lands offer opportunities to link her idea to other tourism sites.

“There’s talk about building a casino in Jenkins, Kentucky, which isn’t far from here,” Stanley said. “Appalachia Gateway Ranch could give people coming to the area another adventure. It could possibly be a venue for outdoor or barn weddings where people from this area wouldn’t have to travel to other venues miles away.”

Since Stanley’s success in college business competitions, Naskar said she has been able to talk with area bankers, Farm Bureau officials, lawyers and other local tourism business operators to help refine her own plan to mesh with growing tourism efforts.

“Everyone I tell about this, they say it’s a great idea and something we need around here.” Stanley said. “There’s hundreds of things you can do with this concept.”

Naskar said Stanley’s ideas also hit three basic requirements of successful entrepreneurship — creating value, delivering that value to customers and capturing the value from providing service.

Stanley is also gathering attention on social media for her idea.

“She has an incredible following on Instagram and Facebook,” Naskar said, “and she’s going to have a Kickstarter campaign soon to help fund development. She’s connecting with people involved in horses as well as other people.”

“She’s representative of what people can do with entrepreneurism in this region, to leverage what we have around here,” Naskar said. “This is not about technology. This is rural America, and most of the U.S. is rural.”

“It really tickles me,” Stanley said. “I’ve actually gotten to bring my college work into doing something I love. This is my life.”