March 29, 2022 News & Features » Cover Story

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Adrienne Wright, 39 

CEO of U-Turn, President, Collaboratory of Virginia

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Scott Elmquist

Adrienne Wright is on a mission to change the thinking around nonprofits.

“Because nonprofits are organizations just like businesses are,” she explains. “They should get the same kinds of support because they’re vital to the community.”

U-Turn, a 30-year community center offering sports programming and development for youth and adults, was the catalyst for turning her attention to nonprofits. The entire second floor of the enormous building that once housed Circuit City headquarters and now houses U-Turn was going unused. Wright’s vision was to revamp the space to be more accessible to the community through collaborative working space as an incubator for nonprofits.

The result in 2019 was the Collaboratory of Virginia, the first incubator and accelerator exclusively for nonprofits in Virginia.

”A lot of nonprofits had to give up their brick-and-mortar spaces during the pandemic,” Wright explains. “Co-working spaces are much more cost-effective for them, and they can use the space to develop relationships.” Because affordable day care is also an issue, an on-site child development center became part of the plan by carving out a part of the second floor.

A new program, Thrive: Acceleration for Social Good, was developed to plan a direct and streamlined path forward for nonprofits. Team driven and mentorship guided, the sessions are challenge specific and mission focused, taking participants through concentrated time planning to execute real-time solutions.

“The nonprofit’s representation must include a board member so that decision-makers are in the room,” Wright says. “That way, they’re able to accomplish in six to eight weeks what would normally take two years.” The fourth cohort of Thrive participants is currently in session, with a fifth scheduled for fall.

Wright is the first to acknowledge that it’s not easy to collaborate because people don’t do it naturally.

“We have to learn it because collaboration takes sacrifice and work, and you have to put your ego aside,” she says. “But it’s a little sacrifice to do something bigger together. When we play well together, the whole community benefits.”

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