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The Beginning of Access

The 2012 edition of Valley Life: Discover Virginia’s Greater Roanoke Valley, an annual regional relocation guide by the Roanoke Regional Chamber of Commerce and the Salem-Roanoke County Chamber of Commerce, gives insight into Access’ beginning and its growth over the past 16 years in the Roanoke Valley.

Ever wonder why Tony and Todd choose Roanoke or exactly how Access was born 16 years ago? Tony and Todd provide the dish on Access’ beginning.

As with many folks in Southwest Virginia, Todd and I selected the Roanoke Valley to live more for quality of life rather than quality of business. However, it should be noted that both Todd and I grew up in very small, rural communities, Todd in West Virginia and myself about 40 miles south in Shawsville. So in many ways, one could argue that in our early years, Roanoke was a “big city.” However, as we aged and traveled, we certainly both had many options about where to live and work. The early 90s found us both in Roanoke working for different agencies and both seeking to improve our craft and assert our individuality. Opening our own agency at that time seemed insane. The market was dominated by two large players that seemed solid and unbeatable. In addition, the market was saturated with other smaller players, and the expectations from our peers were that Access would be a brief venture. As Access enters into its sixteenth year, having won several hundred awards including national and international ones and collaborating with hundreds of clients, the start-up of the firm seems a lifetime ago.

There has never been a better time to start a business in a place like Roanoke. As technology continues to shrink the world, and with the quality of transportation we have in the area, including a world-class regional airport, it gets easier and easier for companies like Access to service businesses throughout the U.S. The increase in the sophistication of clients who are no longer as impressed with zip code as they were in the past, and instead, judge their vendors and partners based on their talents and service, means that the playing field has never been more level for companies like Access. Also, it is worth noting that businesses of all sizes are starting to embrace the safety, quality and low cost of living that are all benefits of cities like Roanoke. So in that regard, I guess it is fair to say Access was “ahead” of the national trend.

When Tony and I started Access in 1996, we needed to get financial projections together and we used the resources of the New Century Venture Center to do so. There were both pragmatic reasons of needing to set a goal for the future and the very practical reason that the business incubator we were joining required a business plan that included financial projections. While we both had experience creating marketing plans, we were sort of lost when it came to formulating financial projections. Doug Murray, who is a now an entrepreneur, was the director at the time and assisted us in creating financial projections. We also benefitted from working with SCORE (Senior Corps of Retired Executes), who were also encouraging and helpful. Now, the Roanoke Regional Small Business Development Center offers many excellent resources which I have recommended over the years to friends thinking about starting a business. 

Access is only one of many businesses that have started in the Roanoke Valley. Thinking about starting a business? Visit the Chamber’s website,, to read about the services offered by the Roanoke Regional Small Business Development Center.



Topics: Agency Life, News