We Dream big.

Part think tank, part school, part national leadership, and part training ground for local leadership

We think local.

We work to foster local, national and even global conversations around entrepreneurship and local economies.

Our Story

About Us

Working Table

The Local Business Institute is dedicated to the creation and support of thriving, sustainable local business communities through education, research and community-building programs. Beyond the traditional norms, we advance programs unique in perspective through innovative thinking and exceptional excellence.

LBI is a 501c3 nonprofit based in Austin, Texas founded by three nationally recognized local business leaders, based in Austin, Texas: Rebecca Melançon, Julie Niehoff and Vicky Valdez. Collectively, bringing 90-plus years of experience in education, business development, nonprofit management, local leadership, movement building, and local community engagement. 

Part think tank, part school, part national leadership, and part training ground for local leadership, the Institute is calling on local leaders from across the country to engage and grow the movement with us. Through special projects, distance learning, virtual and live conferences, lectures and events, we will work to foster local, national and even global conversations around entrepreneurship and local economies. 

We bring substantial resources to students of all ages and in many under-served regions, including many who are not currently engaged in education, policy work or business ownership at all. Throughout all our efforts runs a commitment to redefine traditional economic development into community-focused economic development, to rethink economic traditions and to infuse our programming with innovation and excitement. 

The COVID19 pandemic created, however challenging, the opportunity for a new approach to nurturing local business communities around the world. By engaging business owners, workers, local leaders, educators, funding and government organizations to think differently, we can help people who are struggling to pivot from the shutdown, nurturing for sustainability and fostering growth.

Our programs will always be born from community need. Rather than duplicate what others are doing, and doing well, we will focus on what’s not being done and create programs to fill that void. 

The Institute is guided by a distinguished Advisory Council. These amazing people lend their sage advice, inspiring ideas and unique perspectives to all that we do. A very special thank you to these leaders in the movement.

Founding Directors

Rebecca Melancon

Rebecca Melancon

Director of Policy & Research

Rebecca Melançon has more than 35 years of experience as a business owner and local leader. She was an early architect of the Buy Local movement and was a co-founder of the Austin Independent Business Alliance (AIBA). She initially served as board vice president and later took the helm as Executive Director from 2010 to 2020. Rebecca serves on the Board of the American Independent Business Alliance (AMIBA) and works with many national organizations focused on local business and local economies. She is an award-winning publisher and writer, former publisher of the Austin Business Journal and associate publisher of the Texas Observer. In addition, She co-founded the Austin, Texas monthly magazine, The Good Life, serving as publisher for more than 11 years. Recognized as a champion of the local business movement, Rebecca is an experienced spokesperson, a vocal advocate for change, and she brings significant leadership experience to this project.

Vicky Valdez

Vicky Valdez

Director of Economic Development

Vicky Valdez has a wealth of experience in economic development, small business development and finance. For ten years she managed the City of Austin’s Small Business Program (SBP), a city-funded program that helps current and aspiring entrepreneurs realize their dreams and existing small business owners expand and develop their businesses. Vicky has developed and managed nationally-recognized programs that provide local business owners with education, strategic planning, marketing, financial management, business expansion, new markets and procurement opportunities. She developed programs and curriculum that educates small businesses by providing classroom and online training and one-on-one coaching. She has more than fifteen years of commercial and residential construction experience and was a successful local business owner for six years. Vicky has an undergraduate degree in engineering from Texas A&M University at Kingsville and an MBA from the University of Texas at Austin.

Julie Niehoff

Julie Niehoff

Director of Education

Julie Niehoff is a recognized local business advocate and consultant with a background in small business education, marketing and technology. As the former Director of Education for Constant Contact, Julie helped shape the company’s global small business education initiative, growing the program from 12 to more than 50,000 free classes annually, reaching millions of business owners and nonprofit professionals around the globe. Julie is a co-founder of Distance Learning Media, an education technology firm based in Austin, Texas, and is a co-founder of SkillsAfterService.com, providing career development and coaching for veterans and their families who are transitioning from the military to civilian life. She also manages a national event program called Local Biz Camp and is a regular contributor to Forbes, HuffPost and the network of Business Journals, writing about small business, local impact, and nonprofit outreach. Julie was named a Top Small Business Influencer in America by Small Business Trends magazine and is a celebrated international speaker.

An Experienced Team

Our Advisory Council

Hoover Alexander

Hoover Alexander

Owner, Hoover's Cooking

Hoover Alexander’s roots run deep through Texas. A native East Austinite and a fifth-generation Texan, Hoover and his cooking are inspired by the state itself. 

John Antonelli

John Antonelli

CEO, Antonelli's Cheese Shop

My wife and I made a honeymoon decision to quit our jobs in search of a passion that would allow us to use our strengths – eating, talking, and being together and launched Austin’s first cheese shop.
Eric Groves

Eric Groves

CEO, Alignable.com

 Eric is Co-Founder and CEO of Alignable which currently hosts more than 5 million local businesses on its platform. Eric is also a nationally celebrated author, speaker and coach.

Eileen Keller

Eileen Keller

CEO, Ideality.com, Inc.

Eileen Keller is a Social Physicist and Media Investment Strategist with an empathetic heart centered in a casing of imagination.

Collin Murray

Collin Murray

Exec Director, Dane Buy Local

Colin is Executive Director of Dane Buy Local in Madison, Wisconsin with over 15 years’ experience in locally-focused economic development.

Victoria Musa-Lyons

Victoria Musa-Lyons

Owner, HR Matters Global

Over 20 years, Victoria Musa-Lyons has become recognized in the HR industry for her ability to help companies navigate the challenges of growth and change in a globalized marketplace. 
Monica Pena

Monica Pena

Owner, MUNDUMedia

Monica Peña is an enthusiastic entrepreneur who carefully strategizes to market and move businesses and organizations to the forefront of audiences.

“Good business leaders create a vision, articulate the vision, passionately own the vision, and relentlessly drive it to completion.”

-Jack Welch.