A new $18 million Hampton University workforce program is designed to help entrepreneurs and existing businesses. Courtesy file photo (Hampton University / HANDOUT)

Organizers of a new $18 million workforce development program are looking to help entrepreneurs, existing businesses and anyone affected by the coronavirus pandemic — for free.

Hampton University’s Virginia Workforce Innovation and Entrepreneurship Center opened in October and has already helped 200 people. The business incubator is designed to serve Hampton Roads residents and entrepreneurs and businesses across Virginia, program executive director Kermit Crawford said.

“We have a real strong network of staff members who can work with business owners and entrepreneurs,” Crawford said.

The free 11-week-program provides everything from training and mentorship to networking and access to capital. In addition to existing businesses, the program is for anyone who has a business idea they’d like to develop, Crawford said, mentioning military spouses as a good regional example. The program also has the power to connect participants with college partners like Old Dominion University, experts from the public and private business sectors and workforce agencies.

The program aims to help remove traditional barriers to success, including child care, transportation, and certification and business license costs. Crawford said it’s not trying to replace existing incubators, either.

“What we are trying to do is enhance services that are already here,” he said.

The program is funded by a three-year, $18 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education. Crawford said Hampton University is providing the program on behalf of the Virginia Board of Workforce Development, which was one of 38 initial applicants. Only eight programs were funded by the grant.

Workforce development can be traced back to the beginning of Hampton University, President William Harvey said in a news release.

Program applicants must be Virginia residents interested in business who have been affected by the coronavirus pandemic, Crawford said. For more information or to apply for the program, visit

Trevor Metcalfe, 757-222-5345,