As you walk the colorful campuses of the colleges and universities in the Mountain State, you will hear the chatter of ideas, innovative ways of thinking and students’ entrepreneurial plans for after graduation. Why do these students have to wait until after graduation to make their business dreams a reality?
While it is no secret that West Virginia is among the states with the lowest startup activity, the West Virginia University (WVU) BrickStreet Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, housed in WVU’s College of Business and Economics, is proving to these students there is no need to wait by helping ramp up the startup activity across the state.
“The BrickStreet Center is at the forefront of helping college students in West Virginia become entrepreneurs and expand the entrepreneurial landscape within the state with the West Virginia Statewide Collegiate Business Plan (WVBPC),” says Julia Bolt, assistant director of the BrickStreet Center. “We are always hearing students talk about their business ideas and goals, so we created this competition to allow students to implement those ideas and propel entrepreneurship forward in the state.”
The goal of the WVBPC, now in its 11th year, is to provide students with the education, skills, contacts and motivation necessary to create a viable startup company in West Virginia. Three grand prize packages consisting of $10,000 cash, accounting and legal advising and virtual or physical incubator space are awarded to the top team in each category. The categories are hospitality and tourism, lifestyle and innovation and STEM.
“We are seeing a lot of success with this competition. The student participants—both winners and non-winners—are actually producing businesses here in the state,” says Bolt. “We try to keep in contact with all of our participants to see their successes and remind them the center is still here to help however we can.”
The 2016-2017 competition has been a record-breaking year in terms of participation, further proving the talent and unique ideas of the students in our state. It is evident these young entrepreneurs want to help rebuild the West Virginia economy.
“Our goal of getting all colleges and universities in West Virginia to participate at a high level is getting closer, and it’s thrilling that we’re over 300 entries in the competition,” Bolt says.
To go from a record field of more than 300 entries from 15 institutions in the first round of the competition to 30 semifinalists was difficult to say the least. With the high caliber of the semifinalists, narrowing it down to 15 finalists was an even harder task. The semifinals recently took place at Concord University in Athens, WV, and the winners were announced on November 14. The finalists come from three institutions: University of Charleston, West Virginia University and West Virginia Wesleyan College.
“In January, we bring all of the finalists together for a workshop at WVU to expose them to marketing experts, business experts and anyone else who can to help them fine-tune their business plans and concepts,” says Bolt. “They need help just as much as we want to help them. At the workshop, they also receive a $1,000 stipend to help them prepare for the final round.”
As the flagship university in the state, Bolt believes it is the job of WVU—as well as the other institutions—to take charge in fostering the creative and entrepreneurial abilities of the state’s young minds.
“West Virginia has very some talented and brilliant young people. We often see them move away because they feel they have no choice or ability to really grow professionally in the state,” she says. “It is our job to make sure they achieve their dreams and have the opportunities to build successful businesses here in our state. We want them to stay and be the future of West Virginia.”
The final round of the WVBPC will be held in Morgantown on April 21, 2017. The following is a list of finalists by category:
HOSPITALITY & TOURISM
BeLocalWV – Marc Greenberg and Joshua Harless (University of Charleston)
Black Sails Outdoors – Chase Berman (West Virginia University)
Byrd’s & Bee’s Honey – Matthew Byrd (West Virginia UniversityWVU)
ItSticks! – Lisa Karickhoff and Bryson Fluke (West Virginia Wesleyan College)
Quik-O-Cup – Romkamol Dangprasert and Nga-Phuong Nguyen (University of Charleston)
LIFESTYLE & INNOVATION
Colonel Morgan’s – Chris White, Haylee Lechliter and Joseph Graziano (West Virginia University)
Fire Safety Innovations – Allyssa Covert and Adam Miller (University of Charleston)
H2OLD – IT – Keith Heisler (West Virginia University)
OmniClipz – Dudley McNitt, Quincy Hathaway and Marriah Ellington (West Virginia University)
URCovered – Douglas Criado, Victoria Oyewole and Dana Ciarrocchi (University of Charleston)
Enlightened Technologies – Gautam Naidu and Andrew Fazekas (West Virginia University)
Productive Labs, LLC – Emily Despeaux and Alice Han (West Virginia University)
SaveTheLeftover – Martha Ashame and Suyasha Pradhan (University of Charleston)
StudyLex – Andrew Van Deusen (University of Charleston)
Swift Tag System – Brandon Lucke-Wold and Zach Wright (West Virginia University)
Blair Dowler is the communications specialist for the WVU College of Business and Economics. She is a lead writer, manages all social media for the college and helps coordinate all marketing projects. Dowler is native of West Virginia and a two-time graduate of WVU with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a master’s in integrated marketing communications.