While there’s typically a celebration with public officials, banners, balloons, and a production made around the opening of large corporate offices across the country, most small business owners receive less attention when they are starting their enterprise. The small business process goes from an idea to conversations with family and friends and on to filing the paperwork with the West Virginia Secretary of State with little notice. Then quietly, often by themselves or with a small team, the entrepreneur begins the work of sustaining their business, earning an income, and managing employees and finance in what can feel like a solitary and lonely place. Often this lack of connection to the right resources are the beginning of the end for entrepreneurial endeavors. The frustrations mount and without a support network, the effort ends in frustration.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. There are many resources available to West Virginians that are looking to start or expand a business no matter where you are in the state. From statewide networks of government and educationally based service providers, to local operations like Main Streets and chambers of commerce, the list of options for small business and entrepreneurial help in West Virginia is long. But why don’t business owners take advantage of these great assets? Usually because they are unaware these resources exist, do not know how to access them or haven’t found an easy way to start reaching out.
West Virginia BusinessLink, one of the newest services of the West Virginia Department of Economic Development, links entrepreneurs and business owners to local, regional, and state services and resources to help them launch, grow and prosper. It is developing as a one-stop network of organizations and agencies in the state that support entrepreneurs across any sectors of our economy including manufacturing, retail, technology start-ups and more. By sub-contracting SourceLink and becoming the 8th state to implement their online search and support system for entrepreneurial resources, BusinessLink is the starting point for small business support.
One-Stop-Shop for Resources
There are many aspects of BusinessLink that will help companies grow. As a technology tool, BusinessLink provides:
- Access to dynamic web directory of Resource Partners, these are the entrepreneur service organizations and agencies that offer a broad range of business development expertise.
- Quick links to the appropriate resources to assist in starting or growing a business.
- Reference blogs that convey essential start-up knowledge and provide a connection to some of the best research-based practices
- Connections to the right resources at the right time including business coaching, finance, location services, and more
- Background and contact information about service providers offering a broad range of help
- An easy-to-use events calendar to identify and register for upcoming trainings and meetings
- Easy access to specialty expertise through a targeted search technology, available 24/7
- 1-on-1 help from West Virginia staff via in-person appointments, email and telephone hotline
More than 100 not-for-profit, government, or educational entities that serve entrepreneurs and small businesses are registered with the online platform. These resources highlight the diversity of entrepreneurship across West Virginia. Most importantly, each organization continues to operate independently on their mission but with the added capacity of being linked to other resources. In this way, BusinessLink relieves the pressure that many organizations feel to answer every single possible question that a business owner brings to them. BusinessLink facilitates helping entrepreneurs find the right resource at the right time and in the right location. We accomplish our goals by facilitating connections among the service providers (our Resource Partners) included in the database.
Additionally, the service providers benefit by getting great public awareness and an intentional funnel of business owners who need their services. Using a shared event calendar, Resource Partners can list training opportunities and other important happenings to create greater awareness and participation. Our Resource Partners will receive regular compilation of referral and visibility statistics for their organization through the platform. These insights will include identification of criteria frequently searched by business owners, which leads to insights that will be shared with participating organizations and agencies.
Just Getting Started
The opportunity to lead this new endeavor and build the network has been a tremendously rewarding challenge. Over the past several months, I have worked with more than one hundred Resource Partners inputting data and developing the start of a great one-stop resource for entrepreneurs in the Mountain State.
Our work does not end here, though. In the months ahead, you will find new resources regularly added to the site. These include more Resource Partners adding opportunities for entrepreneurs, a continuing blog series that will highlight best practices for entrepreneurs, informative videos and more. We hope that you will take the time to look around the site and provide us with feedback on the items that can improve it moving forward. Help us build a site that is responsive to the needs of West Virginia’s entrepreneurs.
While we are ecstatic for the launch of West Virginia BusinessLink, we will continue to build onto it and provide ever evolving assistance and opportunities for business owners to establish, build and sustain their endeavors.
About the Author
Bill Woodrum is the West Virginia Entrepreneurship Network coordinator and project manager for West Virginia BusinessLink within the West Virginia Department of Economic Development. Bill is a native West Virginian with family roots tracing back seven generations. He holds a Bachelor of Arts from Marshall University and a Master of Science in Human and Community Resource Development from The Ohio State University. He has worked in community and economic development for nearly 30 years.