by Conor Griffith BUSINESS EDITOR Nov 3, 2019
FAIRMONT — Hopes are high among West Virginia’s business development organizations that a newly funded program will more effectively coordinate available resources and help entrepreneurs take their businesses from concept to reality.
A $1,200,000 grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission was awarded to the INNOVA Commercialization Group, an initiative of the High Technology Foundation, along with the W.Va. Jobs Investment Trust and TechConnectWV. The grant was used to kick off 3 Steps to Start Up, a program to provide enhanced entrepreneurial support for business startups.
“As West Virginians, we can no longer hope things improve in the future. Our economy has declined to such an unprecedented level that we must execute corrective solutions with an unprecedented sense of urgency,” said Jim Estep, president and CEO of the High Technology Foundation. “One of those corrective actions has to be the implementation of a framework that maximizes the economic impact of the innovative and entrepreneurial assets in West Virginia. This ARC funding enables this to happen, and we are grateful for it.”
Guy Peduto, INNOVA’s director, detailed 3 Steps to Start Up.
The first step is awareness and education. This entails venture fairs, social media presence and networking among industry partners.
The second step is commercialization. This entails concept validation, market assessment, business structure, strategic planning, professional assistance and technical assistance with things like manufacturing sourcing.
The third step is investment — both early and long-term funding directed to the state.
Facets of 3 Steps to Start Up have been in the works for several years, Peduto said.
Partners included the Robert C. Byrd Institute, the Center for Advanced Research and Technology and the Manufacturing Extension Partnership at WVU. This work was carried out through three previous U.S. Economic Development Administration grants.
Anne Barth, director of TechConnectWV, said while this isn’t the first program designed to foster in-state startups, it does stand out.
“This project builds upon an existing collaboration between INNOVA, TechConnect WV and WaVa. Jobs Investment Trust,” she said. “This project will scale these successful initiatives and structure them together to provide a faster, more effective and broader reaching program. With increased collaboration at every stage, the initiative will help move entrepreneurs from idea to commercialization to investment more efficiently, generating more startups positioned for success in West Virginia.”
3 Steps to Start Up launched a new website on Nov. 1. From it, entrepreneurs seeking to make use of the program can establish contact and fill out application forms.
A series of education and outreach events is being planned, with the goal of reaching estimated 800 leaders, influencers and innovators, creating a pipeline of entrepreneurs and small businesses seeking startup growth opportunities, Peduto said.
“Taking an idea from concept to market is a Rubik’s Cube of steps. Through the integration of statewide, regional and national entities and initiatives, we are looking to create a linear, modular pathway to move an idea forward faster, more efficiently, more economically and with a higher probability of success,” he said. “The 3 Steps to Start Up model looks to reverse the traditional thought process through the development of a ‘virtual’ incubator by providing these services and assistance to the entrepreneur wherever they are located.”
Andrew Zuluaf, executive director of the West Virginia Jobs Investment Trust, said he hopes this new approach can also lend an extra boost to economically lower-performing counties especially when it comes to much needed diversification.
“The 42 counties served by this project struggle to achieve the economic diversification needed to overcome the job loss and disinvestment resulting from coal’s decline,” he said. “According to the Appalachian Regional Commission, the majority of the targeted counties remain at-risk or are distressed economically,” he said. “The outlook for these counties without action to spur new businesses and investment remains poor. The project will connect, accelerate, and launch new businesses and job creation in this coal-impacted region in West Virginia. This wide-ranging effort will improve these communities and help build a backbone of small businesses that will support a state-wide economic restructuring toward a more sustainable, 21st century economy.”
Business Editor Conor Griffith can be reached by at 304-395-3168 or by email at [email protected]