West Virginia has created an abundance of entrepreneurial resources throughout the state in the past several years. In early 2019, a group of entrepreneurial providers held a meeting to connect and identify opportunities for improvement in aiding entrepreneurs. The West Virginia Entrepreneurship Ecosystem effort started as a simple exercise in aligning efforts for better communications through loose collaboration. In less than three years, it has evolved and created a formal network, the West Virginia Entrepreneurship Ecosystem, and a fully functioning ecosystem website through WVBusinessLink.com, a program of the WV Department of Economic Development.
In an effort to continue the growth of the system, the West Virginia Entrepreneurship Ecosystem is expanding the reach and cooperation of various entities who serve entrepreneurs and, specifically, the top organizations in the state who hold entrepreneurial pitch competitions. In the spring of 2022, we will be holding Bridging Innovation, a week of entrepreneurship generation in the Mountain State. Not so much an event, as a kickoff the week will build upon the success of the Ecosystem Symposia of 2020 and the individual success that each of these varying have had, and harness them into a spotlight week that contains 5 days of expositions and competitions designed to inspire, support, and fund entrepreneurs in West Virginia.
The week will comprise 9 different events highlighting various competitions and aspects of entrepreneurship. We expect dozens of entrepreneurs including high school and college students, veterans, and established companies who are looking to scale. They will have the opportunity to meet with more than 200 ecosystem builders from across the state. Additionally, The West Virginia Department of Education (WVDE) is bringing more than 200 CTE, and other students from across West Virginia, to highlight their new Entrepreneurship Career Track option. They will participate in a newly created Entrepreneurship pipeline event where West Virginia high school students are invited to work in teams to create and share ideas for improving their communities through entrepreneurship! This interactive session will include hands-on activities from the WVU My Hometown is Cool! program and a chance to win prizes. Presenters will share information on multiple upcoming opportunities for youth interested in entrepreneurship. This session is limited to participating youth and adult facilitators. The WVDE is bearing all of the cost for transporting and feeding this large number of future entrepreneurs.
The schedule for the week runs five days and encompasses more than 1,000 participants across the organizations. Additionally, video and still imagery will be captured to assist in the creation of a media campaign highlighting the potential for people from all walks of life to become entrepreneurs in Appalachia.
Monday, April 4
University of Charleston i3 Competition
Tuesday, April 5
WV Entrepreneurship Ecosystem Conference
Wednesday, April 6
WV Innovation & Business Model College Competition
WV Statewide High School Business Plan Competition
WV Statewide Collegiate Business Plan Competition
Thursday, April 7
Youth Entrepreneurship in Action
West Virginia Veteran Entrepreneur Showcase
Friday, April 8
TransTech Energy Business Development Conference
The overall expectation is to increase entrepreneurial activity in West Virginia through a combination of stakeholder education, seed funding infusion through the various business competitions, education of high school and college students on entrepreneurship opportunities and generally raising awareness of entrepreneurship through promotion of it as a viable career trajectory. The programs fit well as a tool to advance the ARC initiative of promoting entrepreneurial activity in Appalachian in the following ways:
- Capture geographic and demographic information for identifying underrepresented industries and encouraging new business opportunities
- Training for more than 200 entrepreneurs and connections with Resource Providers through formal and informal networking opportunities.
- Create video and still imaging which can promote entrepreneurship in West Virginia through an on-going social media campaign
- Engaging elected officials and educate them on best practices in entrepreneurship
- Document best practices implemented by WVEE as the ecosystem development for distribution in Appalachia and beyond
- Inspire more than 400 participating K-12 and college student entrepreneurs and engage them in meaningful interactions with advisors and coaches to help build their businesses.
- Create matches between private angel and venture capital funders and entrepreneurs resulting in investment in West Virginia-based business.
If you need additional information on this innovative and emerging series of events, please do not hesitate to reach out.